Monday, December 28, 2009

We journalists sure like our work

The Poynter Institute hosted a live chat with the provocative title "Are Journalists Giving Up on Newspapers?" that concluded with a split decision: "Yes, some are, with important consequences" (42 percent of respondents) and "Yes, some are, but newspapers will survive anyway" (26 percent).

Meantime, 32 percent feel journalists aren't giving up on newspapers as fast as the papers are giving up on them. (Which earns a big "Right On!" from the 15,000 or so journalists like me who were laid off or bought out by newspapers this year.)

I can't tell you how big the respondent pool was to the Poynter chat, which I just happened upon one afternoon; it's archived here. (Click on the "Are Journalists Giving Up..." title under "Completed Events".)

These kinds of chats, live or archived, are sometimes frustrating because they aren't linear: Someone is always countering a point or answering a question from several speakers ago. Nevertheless, they usually are instructive.

Such was the case with the mini-polls that popped up as the Poynter chat progressed over the course of an hour. The program was led by a couple of folks from the school and also featured Matt Stiles, a former big-city newspaper reporter in Texas who now works as a reporter and data-base specialist at, the deep-pocketed online news site in Austin that went live in early November.

For instance, one poll asked why we journalists stayed at newspapers. Four in 10 respondents answered "It's what I love," while three in 10 said they "need the paycheck." (Does that practical sentiment negate the first?) Two in 10 said they remained because they were "still optimistic about its future," and one in 10 picked the "all of the above" option -- which also had for good measure "I don't like my other options," which was picked by no one.

The majority of participants were full-time journalists (53 percent); 21 percent identified themselves as former journalists.

One mini-poll seemed directed at the latter, asking why they left the newsroom. "All of the above" was a favorite answer here, too (33 percent) for a list that included  "It (the news organization) was moving too slowly" (27 percent); "I was more excited about other options" (20 percent); "The money was better elsewhere" (13 percent); and "I lost faith in its future" (7 percent).

The journalists who still work full-time at newspapers seemed resigned to riding out the storm that is threatening to topple their papers' traditional ad-based revenue model. Asked which action was more admirable, 75 percent picked "Staying put to steer through rocky waters," while the remainder endorsed "Bailing while I can." (No one chose the option "Going down with the ship if it must sink," perhaps reflecting the cost in worker loyalty wrought by the deep staff cuts made at newspapers.)

Remember the old Timex slogan that the watch "takes a licking and keeps on ticking?" Seems like we journalists do the same.

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