Thursday, November 12, 2009

Are journalists an endangered species?

I'd better hurry up and find a job.

"Journalism is dying," says John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation magazine and co-author with Robert McChesney, communications professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, of "The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again," due to hit bookstores in January.

He's shown above, in a clip posted on YouTube by The Nation, at a July conference of student journalists on the future of the industry, sponsored in Washington by the magazine and Campus Progress, a program of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. (The "dying" comment comes at about 3:13.)

What's more, Nichols says, because there has been an acceleration of job losses in the media -- down 10 percent last year and an expected 15 percent this year -- "...we have about eight years until there are no paid journalists left in America -- period, gone, out of here."

That sure doesn't bode well for a return to the newsroom by me or any of my unemployed cohorts.

But note that he's talking about paid journalists. Because if you listen closely at the top of the video (some context is lacking in the shift to Nichols as the next panelist), you'll hear him mention that writers can "get your stuff out there ... you're just not going to be paid for it."

Pay is an issue that absolutely belongs on the table. Why do you think that legacy newspapers have been trimming page counts and cutting staff? Because their two biggest costs are newsprint and the people who produce the paper.

Meantime, one new-media business model getting some traction (and criticism) relies on content produced by writers and editors who are paid pennies for their work but get to "share" in revenue resulting from the ads or clicks connected to it. (That's a subject for a future post.)

Nichols falls into the you-get-what-you-pay-for camp. He and McChesney, who together founded the Free Press website, which champions broad media ownership and universal access to the Internet, have written extensively on the need for a government role in the press -- like the one provided by the Founding Fathers years ago.

"If there is to be journalism, there must be government intervention," he told the student journalists.

An in-depth essay by Nichols and McChesney on that theme is here.

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