Reading about journalism is depressing…

In Journalism on May 16, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Do you ever feel that an author is speaking directly to you? Like he prefaced his sentence with your name?

Yes. All the time.

This morning, The New York Times Magazine was talking to me.

It asked “What are you really worth when you practice journalism now?” An excellent question.

Well I’m ready for the answer because next year guess who will graduate with a B.S. (how appropriate) in journalism?

And for a field that is supposed to provide answers, we are least capable at this within our own industry.

One thing is for certain: we don’t talk about paper anymore. That includes the green kind.

Though Andrew Rice highlights several online media outlets, including The Faster Times, True/Slant and, they still seem to be struggling to figure out a stable payment plan for their writers.

Well maybe not True/Slant, started with $3 million from the same guy who did TMZ. But even then they get “a pittance.” TFT offers nickels and dimes based on ad revenue. (which won’t load right now and still has an annoying layout) looks like it will pay you about a buck per article if you write a ton for them.

One of the sad things about this is that True/Slant kind of sucks. As Rice details, they are all about the keyword game. And it’s just a mash-up of other sites’ content, essentially.

The Faster Times has longer, more informative and interesting articles. The sleek, Daily Beast-ish layout makes it easy on the eyes and easy to click around. Plus, they are experimenting with subscription, which I, and much more qualified pundits, like to make a case for.

It was both the most and least depressing aspect of this piece. TFT is startup powered by smart contributors who still give a shit about writing. Though some have deserted, there are still spark and imagination firing to come up with options.

The depressing part about TFT is the competition aspect. Of course I had to click on “Why I shoved rat feces in a little girl’s face.” Pretty entertaining personal anecdote, I must say.

But clearly, I can’t like it that much because this bitch is basically me, but more prolific, if you can say that about a young writer. She’s 23, like me. But she’s in New York. And she has a manuscript. That she’s submitting.

And now, not only do I feel like I need to move back to New York right now, but I have to have two manuscripts.

Oh! Also, someone is also totally writing about toilets. The most depressing part of this whole ordeal.

Bottom line, this is the same hash that keeps being printed about the industry because we control the outlet. No one else cares. I go through and highlight every online publisher, so I can bookmark the sites and submit, so I love it, but overall, I’m surprised it gets such high billing in the wider world of news.

The systems of communication are exceedingly important to everyone, but how journalists make their money isn’t so much.

Ultimately, the best advice came from the Sunday Business Section.

“Find out what you really love to do and then go after it–relentlessly.”

Yeah, yeah, it’s not new. But coming from the C.E.O. of The Onion, Steve Hannah, it means a little more. It seems like better advice or at least reinforces what all of us in journalism committed to already because we really didn’t get into it for the money. Or were confused freshmen forced to pick a major, after which they came to their senses and switched to history (hello Matthew and Spencer).

For those who don’t know what they want to do, note that the first words are “Find out.” Then just move that adverb back a couple words. “Find out what you really love to do relentlessly” is also good advice.

  1. I spent Friday night with four writers from the St. Pete Times, and they seemed to absolutely lov… loathe… their jobs. Cranky drunks, too. But this may be attributed more to Gator City and shitty margaritas than to journalism epically sucking.

    Either way, I think we can both attest that journalism – or at least its overall orientation – does indeed epically suck. And the industry’s got no one to blame but itself (assuming inanimate objects can place blame/be assigned the pronoun “itself”). I mean, doesn’t your B(ull)S(hit) program still offer newspaper management? That’s bass ackwards, holmes. I think the future of the mainstream is ultimately buried somewhere in the underground – with the enterprising young lads/lad-ettes who run Sports Casualties (at CLICK!) and The Zebra Owl and whatnot. As for this whole paper thing… no, man, it’s totally not sustainable. And trying to create a new revenue model for it is an exercise in wasted brain power and fools’ errands.

    You can’t give away stuff for free and then expect people to pay for it. Ad money and sponsorships are Where It’s At (“I got two turntables and a microphone”). And I feel it’s not impossible to corral a group of funny people and turn a tiny site into your own personal cash cow. See Casualties, Sports. But seriously, before I start padding my bank account with income from Google Ads, I’m first going to listen to the new episode of Bill Simmons’ “B.S. Report,” made possible by the Subway Fresh Take Hotline (see what I did there… SPONSORSHIP?!?).

    My goal coming into this comment was to supersede your word count, so I’d say this has been an unqualified success. Oh, and enjoy your day-long writer’s workshop with old-school newspaper men. Irony!

    – Robbie Hilson, brought to you in part by (*insert entity willing to hire me, sans The Examiner… b/c it sucks worse than real journalism*)

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