A little over two months ago, I reported on the Pew Research Center’s discovery that the internet has finally overtaken newspapers as a leading news source, and how journalists disparate to keep their jobs are now willing–even eager–to learn new skills in multimedia. This new attitude toward the Web as friend (not foe) would have been difficult to imagine a few years ago when many journalists were so afraid of going multimedia, they began threatening to leave their jobs. (Just read my master’s thesis.)
But is this acceptance of the Web “too little, too late”? In 2008, nearly 16,000 newspaper journalists lost their jobs to layoffs. And so far in 2009, another 3,000 have found themselves out of work. These figures don’t even include television, radio, the struggling magazine sector, or the Internet.
I interviewed writer, public speaker, and founder of the aptly named AngryJournalist.com, Kiyoshi Martinez, last week about our struggling profession. Although Martinez has left the reporting world, he keeps up with the industry as much as he can and is currently developing a new site, Journalism.me, which currently lists the most popular topics journalists are blogging about on any given day. Here are some highlights from the interview:
Rima Chaddha Mycynek: Your brief career in journalism includes a stint as a stringer for Newsweek and as a Web editor for five Chicago-area newspapers–at once. Why did you leave the field?
Kiyoshi Martinez in Chicago, February 2008. Photo courtesy Jason Reblando
Kiyoshi Martinez: Short answer? Money. Long answer? I wanted fair financial compensation, job stability, weekends off, good benefits and a broader range of career opportunities.
RCM: Fair enough. Is that why you started AngryJournalist.com?
KM: I started AngryJournalist after reading a report from Dr. Scott Reinardy on how the burnout rate of young journalists was on the rise. Some of the responses (anonymous) were similar to either my views of the profession or those expressed by friends in the industry. I wondered how universal these thoughts were and what journalists would say if given the platform to anonymously and freely speak their mind. For a site though that hasn’t changed much and required no extra effort by me, I’m satisfied with its results. I saw this project as more or less an experiment that has overperformed my expectations.
I think a lot of people assume that I was an angry journalist. I would say it was more a “disillusioned” or “disappointed” feeling about the industry. I’m not angry now. I’m pretty content with my life, but I do empathize with friends who are still in the industry and being let down by it. I’ve known three close friends who were laid off in the past year, one was my girlfriend. Another was my roommate in [an] internship program. And the other was my bureau chief who mentored me during my [government reporting] internship in Springfield. I think what David Simon’s essay for Esquire nailed it: you can love newspapers, but “a newspaper can’t love you back.”
RCM: Do you think the journalists who visit your site are more angry than disillusioned or vice versa?
KM: I think journalists are transitioning between anger and sadness, especially as we witness more layoffs, shutdowns and general chaos in the industry. Will they quit? Honestly, I think that decision may be made for many of them soon enough.
RCM: That’s pretty ominous, but probably not inaccurate considering the 2008/2009 job-loss figures. Do you think “angry journalists” are more intent on leaving the field now, or are they doing everything they can to keep their positions?
KM: Initially, a year ago, I would’ve said that people were making these threats [to leave their jobs] because they were fed up with management and the general way these companies were being operated. Now, I think it’s shifted to survival. The industry has no financial stability or job certainty. Additionally, all these layoffs are creating a large surplus of experienced talent for the few positions remaining. Then, throw in wage freezes and reductions, hiring freezes and more work on less people. When the odds are this stacked against you, I think that’s a good reason to leave.
RCM: Do you think there’s any hope for print, which seems to be struggling the most out of all media?
KM: I’m a pessimist and realist. It’s going to get worse. There will be less jobs, fewer publications and too little innovation too late (on both business and editorial ends). Watch for more production duties (page design, creative ad services) to be outsourced to India. Expect some publications to have full-time staff replaced by freelancers paid on pageviews. More sections will be dropped from the physical product and the newshole will get smaller. Circulation will drop further, especially in this economy. And there will be fewer print ads, too. All the ad verticals newspapers built their empires on are eroding away right now: auto, real estate, classified, retail, etc.
RCM: Surely you can’t be completely pessimistic. Is there anything at all that you feel we can do to keep professional journalism alive?
KM: A “better” economy aside, the only thing that I believe can be done by news organizations is to have a huge push to innovate when it comes to online advertising and make your services and product more appealing. Don’t pursue any editorial projects that you can’t monetize. Find new revenue streams. I would also stress an emphasis on finding a way to monetize the growth of mobile broadband Internet browsing being done, but I doubt many news orgs right now have the funds to seriously become a player in that market right now, let alone last long enough to take advantage of it.
RCM: That’s a lot to ask, considering that journalistic education nationwide still seems to be focused on the us-versus-them mentality of broadcast-versus-print. I won’t get into how arcane I think that is, but I will ask you this: How can we tweak journalism education make what you suggest possible–or at the very least, to ensure that we’re not sending students out to face a bleak future of unemployment or temp work?
KM: To justify the cost of a journalism degree, it should have business courses training journalists to be entrepreneurs. You have as good a shot in being successful working for yourself as you do for the established companies. This mythical wall between editorial and business needs to come down. This willful ignorance is a huge problem.
I can’t speak for journalism programs around the country, but I think that my undergraduate classes were mostly a waste of time. All the classwork wasn’t as valuable as the experience of actually performing acts of journalism and learning skills by practicing them. This is something you can do outside of a journalism college. You can train yourself and let your peers review you online. There are plenty of free resources to learn about multimedia. However, one class that I think was valuable was media law. Knowing about libel, copyright, the First Amendment rights, etc. was essential and helpful.
One thing that I’d stress is that anyone can perform acts of journalism. Having schooling or training doesn’t matter as much anymore. What matters now is having the tools to distribute information to an audience. One of my favorite journalism-related movie scenes is from “Superman Returns” when the editor of the Daily Planet is screaming at Jimmy Olsen for getting scooped by a kid who snapped a photo of the Man of Steel with his cameraphone.
Four years of schooling, thousands of dollars of student loan debt and a piece of paper doesn’t have anything over the guy with a iPhone and a few hundred followers on Twitter.
What do you think? Is journalism (or at least the journalistic model we’re still teaching in schools) dead? Can we save our profession?