Donnerstag, Mai 21, 2009

Ouch...Why Journalism Is Deservedly Underpaid...

This I ran across via Jaymaster at Dean's World.


The man - a certain Professor Robert G. Picard - is absolutely right. But he misses one small point.

He's right that journalism, right now, is a profession that deserves low pay. Why? Because journalists aren't adding value to the inputs that they use to make their work.

Let me explain, if I may, a simple economic fact: the higher the value added in a business process, the greater the salaries are for people who can add that value. This is a basic, simple fact that no one can get around, and because so few understand this, economics remains for many a complete mystery. It fuels envy, greed and avarice: rather than becoming someone who adds value, people steal that value, don't want others to have it, and lust after it without understanding how to get there.

Adding value in a business process isn't the end all and be all of life: however, if you are good at it, you get to money to buy the toys.

Journalists today - probably close to the entire generation of journalists we now have - were trained less to be reporters of news, synthesizers of data points, investigators of the deliberately hidden and much more to be some sort of social heroes, the kind of people who bring down presidents and bring social justice.

As Professor Picard puts it:

It is clear that journalists do not want to be in the contemporary labor market, much less the highly competitive information market. They prefer to justify the value they create in the moral philosophy terms of instrumental value. Most believe that what they do is so intrinsically good and that they should be compensated to do it even if it doesn't produce revenue.

What strikes me particularly is that I am listening to an old radio show while I write this, one from 1960. During a commercial break - the commercials are included in this particular broadcast from 6 Nov 1960, on the CBS Radio Network - the announcer comes on and extols how good the CBS reporters are in getting you the news you need, day in and day out.

How far the mighty have fallen.

Professor Picard:

Journalism must innovate and create new means of gathering, processing, and distributing information so it provides content and services that readers, listeners, and viewers cannot receive elsewhere. And these must provide sufficient value so audiences and users are willing to pay a reasonable price.

What is missing, in my opinion? The small point is this: journalists aren't some sort of innocent victim of changing times and the persuasive saturation of media into every aspect of daily life (anyone with a cell phone and the ability to upload a video to YouTube has the potential of an entire television network in terms of technical ability to get the news out: whether the film is worth viewing is another question), but have, by trying to be social activists, fighting for social justice and being there to push a progressive agenda, brought this upon themselves, some knowingly, others unwittingly.

The journalist's idol for many years were the likes of Edward Murrow and those of his generation, culminating in many ways in Uncle Walter, Walter Cronkite, the man who spoke to America like no one before. These were the folks whose expertise and writing abilities made them famous, not overnight, but over the decades, where they rose to a position of trust, to the point where when Cronkite - wrongly -cast doubt on the ability of the US to win the Vietnam War, President Johnson rightly said that he had lost the public battle to support that sad and destructive war. Journalists were independent thinkers, people who did their research and dug out their stories, gaining trust by being right time after time after time after time. They had the value added that made them the first superstars of the business.

Of course, this is not what journalism is about nowadays: journalists are herd animals, with a low skill set, editors who accept poor reporting and encourage groupthink and a peer group that punishes independent thinkers severely.

The problem is that journalism has become nothing more than political activism camouflaged by a tradition that is fraying at the edges and falling apart: the industry is in denial that it has a political bias, preferring instead to believe that their perception of the world is the world. What journalists have lost is their objectivity, since objectivity doesn't get them peer approval and peer support that they need to compensate for poor pay.

It is not just a matter of embracing uses of new technologies. Journalists today are often urged to change practice to embrace crowd sourcing, to search specialty websites, social networks, blogs, and micro-blogs for story ideas, and to embrace in collaborative journalism with their audiences. Although all of these provide useful new ways to find information, access knowledge, and engage with readers, listeners, and viewers, the amount of value that they add and its monetization is highly debatable. The primary reason is that those who are most highly interested in that information and knowledge are able to harvest it themselves using increasingly common tools.

So where can journalists excel, where can they add value, where can they regain the trust that the occupation once deserved?

By doing their jobs: by throwing off the foolish and destructive mantle of journalist-as-social-activist; of getting the news down right, independent of simple regurgitation of press releases and lazy rewriting; of becoming objective and critical, rather than fawning and sycophantic of politicians; of laboring decades for relatively little money in the hopes of becoming one of the true stars of the business, be it local, national or international. Simply being there doesn't cut it, any more than the world somehow owes a liberal arts graduate a living just because they are a liberal arts graduate.

This is underscored by the Newspaper Revitalization Act recently introduced to try to help newspapers survive: it basically is oriented to granting the newspaper business a 501(c)(3) status, i.e., organizations that cover: "Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations", i.e. organizations that are not businesses.

Neither, it appears, are organizations whose primary business was journalism.

Expect a new set of parasites lving off those who are productive and create value adeed: journalists. Rather than reinventing their profession, it's a lot easier to become part of the problem and not part of the solution.

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