The coming journalism collapse: it’s here, now

As online and print media properties cut staff and newspapers, blog networks and magazines struggle to survive, and formerly employed journalists spin out from  their companies, suddenly transforming from staffers to ” independent” media, it seems like the value of many forms of paid content is being driven way down.  Back in the day, when journalists ruled, there was a hierarchy of writers and media outlets; as a young journalist, I could aspire to someday write for, say, Vanity Fair, or The New Yorker, where they paid the astronomical rates of $3 to $5 a word (this at a time when $1 a word was good pay.) Fast forward twenty years later, to where we are in a world where only does the wisdom of crowds mean that the best work from the best bloggers, videographers, photographers, etc, can be paid attention to, it means those works can be experienced by literally millions of people.

Only thing is, where’s the financial model to make that work? Nada. YouTube, where I posted my video, or Huffington Post, where I posted my story, can benefit enormously, but my sorry-ass reward is not cash, it’s acclaim. The offer Typepad made to laid off journalists to give them blogs and set them up as independents in their blog network is nice, but hey, how are those folks gonna generate enough traffic to make more every month than the price of a few fancy lattes?

We’re at a moment in time, seems to me, when the value of words, in particular, is going down. For every blogger who started a blog network 4 years ago and is now a budding William Randolph Hearst, there’s a poor slob like me, filled with good ideas, decent writer, who’s licking up the scraps posting on HuffPo and other outlets can provide, hoping a combination of that and TechMeme referrals will turn straw into, uh, gold.

In other words, not only does supply of wordsmiths way outstrip demand, the current system, based on crowd-sourcing search technology and weak referrals, means of the saplings in the forest, no matter what, aren’t going to get all the light they need–and they’re going to starve, suckas.

Not die, just starve, like the coal-clutching wretches in George Gissing’s New Grub Street, a post-Victorian story that refuses to lose it’s relevance in the patchwork economy.

(Note: Wrote this over the weekend, before hearing that the Chicago Tribune just filed for banktruptcy protection. ZMOG!)

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  1. Lisa Williams says:

    I wonder if there’s (real) money in it for the folks at YouTube or Huffington Post, either.
    By “real” money I mean “actual revenue that puts the company in the black” as opposed to the vaporous money that’s supplied by VCs or the stock market, which is only spendable for as long as everyone’s confidence that there’s a greater fool out there to flip the property to holds out.
    And we all know how quickly that confidence can evaporate.
    Entirely willing to be proven wrong if either company (or in the case of YouTube, subsidiary) is in the black, of course.
    That said, even VC money or inflated valuations from Wall Street puts paychecks in the bank for some people some of the time, so your point still holds in any case.

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