Tough noogies and self-help for journalists

I shouldn’t have read The Economist’s leader on the “jobs crisis” over lunch yesterday. A few snippets:

“An American who loses his job today has less of a chance of finding another one than at any time since records began half a century ago. . . .

“Morever, many of yesterday’s jobs, from Spanish bricklayer to Wall Street trader, are not coming back. People will have to shift out of old occupations and into new ones. . .

“The bare truth is that the more easily jobs can be destroyed, the more easily new ones can be created.”

Ouch.

All very sobering realities for displaced journalists, who aren’t exactly getting a lot of sympathy for alluding to their plight so frequently. Even in the wake of the closures of newspapers in Denver and Seattle, and the possibilities of more in Tucson and San Francisco right around the corner.

Over coffee this morning, I read media economics expert Robert Picard tell the journalistic set to get over itself in a post entitled “The Overblown Journalism Employment Crisis:”

“If you look at newsrooms you can see the problem. Most journalists in newspapers do everything BUT covering significant news. They spend their time doing celebrity, food, automobile, and entertainment stories. Look around any newsroom, or just the lists of assignments or beats, and you soon come to realize that 20 percent or fewer of the journalists in newsrooms actually produce the kind of news that most people are concerned about losing.”

“Maybe it’s about time that journalists stop whining about their troubles and initiate some internal discussions about how their own newsrooms are structured and operated.”

Ouch.

I don’t dispute that my profession has gotten terribly self-absorbed with the implosion of the newspaper industry, and using the powerful megaphones at its disposal to tell the world about it. But I wonder if Picard realizes how the trenches of a newsroom are organized and commanded.

Hint: It’s not by those whiny workaday journalists, even those few who might have the time to sit around the ol’ newsroom campfire and brainstorm new structures and operations that would most likely be ignored by management.

Lesson here: Refrain from reading such gloomy stuff while eating or drinking.

Mark Potts, aka The Recovering Journalist, offers a useful guide to what to do if you’re laid off. Perhaps the most valuable suggestion goes beyond the obvious and the practical to simply taking a deep breath, relaxing and viewing what might be a traumatic time as an opportunity for something better:

“Don’t freak out. You’re going to get through this. If you can hack it financially, take some time for yourself before plunging into finding a new job. You’ve been through one of life’s most traumatic experiences. If you can get away and take some time off to decompress, do it. It will really help your mental health and ability to move forward. And you may never get a chance again to take a mid-career break like this, for yourself or to spend time with your family.”

A former journalist reading Andrew Sullivan’s blog echoes that refrain:

“If I had stayed at the newspaper, I might be jobless with a rotted-out pension and a house that wasn’t worth its mortgage. Though I am still worried about providing for my child in this dismal economy, I am more confident than ever that I made the right decision when I abandoned my safe career to taste the broader glories of life. Because, as is now so overwhelmingly clear, nothing is ever truly safe.

“If this recession serves as anything, hopefully it will be a reminder that you should never compromise your ambitions in favor of the chimera of financial security. If you are inevitably going to end up in the poorhouse, you might as well get there by chasing the wildest of your dreams.”

Mary Ann Chick Whiteside, who’s taken a newspaper buyout and who also considers herself a recovering journalist, points to yet another survey of journalists like her by yet another journalism professor gauging the attitudes of what he calls the “lost generation of journalists.”

What he may be uncovering might not be the steady drumbeat of despair we’ve been accustomed to accept. Here’s the link if you want to participate.

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11 thoughts on “Tough noogies and self-help for journalists

  1. Fortunately many of our students remain more optimistic than folks who are (or, like me and many other profs, who have been) in the industry. And those students are doing some cool things that might benefit both journalism and society in the future, prompting me to write recently about why they should be hired. If interested, you can see that piece at http://jmcpherson.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/media-organizations-why-you-should-hire-my-journalism-students/.

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  2. We as journalist need to re-evaluate what is important to us as individuals and where we want to go with it. We have to be more business savvy in addition to maintaining the journalistic code.
    People don’t want to read about the nastiness of our world. Editorial boards are giving the public what it wants.
    It’s not rocket science! Or maybe it is for those left holding the purse strings.

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  3. The world as we know it, is gone forever. Casino-capitalism/toxic-securites/banks-mad off -insurace-ponzi/wallstreet-exceses did it. Trust is gone. Money evaporated.Ultimate greed made people “sell” debt, make tons of money on commisions, salaries and bonuses and put the human race in more debt, left to granchildren to pay. SHAME !

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  4. Ugh. As a recovering journalist, I’ve restrained myself from recommending careers in journalism to young people for lo! these 20 years or so.

    Re: mdbirdlover’s comment, “People don’t want to read about the nastiness of our world. Editorial boards are giving the public what it wants”: Sorry, but editorial boards most certainly are NOT giving this reader what she wants. If by “nastiness of the world” you mean sensational reports of celebrity misbehavior and the endless list of car wrecks, fires, murders, rapes, and child molestations, you’ve got it right. But if you mean what the rascals are up to down at city hall and up on Wall Street, you’ve missed the point. Smart readers don’t want to be bored with banalities and lurid gore. Nor do we care to read advertising disguised as news or fluff best directed at a Barbie Doll. We want to know what is going on in government, business, and our communities. Is that really too much to ask?

    For those who are still working journalists, y’know…it sure would be nice to see some NEWS in the paper and on the local newscasts. I’ve taken to calling the latter “Play-Nooz”: whatever it is, it ain’t news.

    The news site for the local ABC station, for example, presently has 8 buttons to what its editors evidently hink are important stories. Of those eight, one reports that you can get a free meal at a local restaurant, Eddie’s, with a Smart Shopper card; one is a piece of fluff purporting to reveal how you can tell when someone is lying to you; one enthuses about the release of the Twilight DVD; and one exclaims urgently that a stray Rottweiler needs your donation to get surgery for its broken pelvis. Of eight above-the-fold stories, four are trash. Of the remaining four that qualify as news, one is a national story that could be found anywhere. That leaves three stories out of eight — less than 40% of the content! — that actually provide local news.

    I no longer subscribe to the local paper. I canceled it when I realized I was paying to have 5 pounds of advertising delivered to my door every Sunday along with a paper that did not contain even one full page of real news. We actually had a mayoral campaign here in the nation’s 5th-largest metropolitan area during which the local newspaper DID NOT COVER THE MAYORAL RACE! No joke.

    The New York Times is delivered to my home. That, BBC, NPR, Radio Netherlands, and Frontline are my sources of national & international reporting. For local news, I have to fall back on the local NPR and PBS stations, each of which has one (count it, 1) program devoted to local issues.

    As for the Tucson Citizen…it has a circulation of 17,000. My blog has more readers! It’s not worth hiring a phalanx of reporters and editors to put together a publication that pulls in fewer readers than a blog containing the maunderings of a throwback to the Cretaceous Period. Let them put it online: maybe it’ll jack up their readership.

    If journalism is dying, it’s because journalism committed suicide.

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  5. “As for the Tucson Citizen…it has a circulation of 17,000. My blog has more readers!”

    I’m curious about your math. The Citizen’s circulation is a daily figure, while the “stats” part of your blog lists less than 66,000 hits. Considering that you’ve apparently been blogging for 15 months or so, that’s roughly 150 hits per day.

    And with a “hit” coming each time someone goes to a different story, those 150 “hits” may be coming from 15 regular readers. Put another way, I’ve had fewer readers on my own blog (with just over 40,000 hits) in the past 11 months than I may have had in one day back when I wrote for newspapers.

    Finally, though I don’t live there, I suspect the Citizen provides more useful local news (city hall, county commissioners, etc.) every week than you and I have provided our two communities through our combined blogging efforts during the past year.

    As for a newspaper failing to cover the mayoral race: I agree that’s unforgivable. But that doesn’t mean no newspaper is better than a bad newspaper.

    I also like and largely agree with your last line.

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  6. This is a very interesting discussion and one that is hopefully going on in newsrooms. Maybe not though since they are doing “more with less” and what they do cover is not so great.

    To funnyaboutmoney: If by “nastiness of the world” you mean sensational reports of celebrity misbehavior and the endless list of car wrecks, fires, murders, rapes, and child molestations, you’ve got it right. This is what I meant.

    But if you mean what the rascals are up to down at city hall and up on Wall Street, you’ve missed the point. I didn’t miss any point, at all.

    My point is this: many people are too busy working tow or three jobs to earn a living and don’t have the time or wherewithal to delve into what you would consider a “SMART reader. I’m not saying it’s right… but when the reality of life is that you are struggling to get by, the last thing
    you have time and/or energy for is to be a Smart reader- as you call it. They don’t want to hear about the corruption of governemt they can’t do anything about.
    Which by the way, any reader is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

    You bring up many valid points. I too have stopped getting my local paper. The day I saw an ad on the front page was it.

    I don’t know if journalism is committing suicide just yet. Journalists are told what stories to cover by the editors- on the editorial board- they don’t do them. They don’t have a job. Plus we have the internet- it’s just a matter of time before we start realizing all the good that can come out of citizen journalism.

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  7. I have a solution for out of work journalists. Just sell out. Get a PR or marketing job. You’ll get paid more, and you might actually like it.

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