The increasingly disposable journalist

Online journalism innovator David Cohn is asked what he’d do if he could reorganize a major newsroom. The short answer: make it a co-op, with fewer staff writers and more contract writers because . . .

“. . .  freelancing is the future. As the media becomes more distributed we will see less mass media and more mini-media which is produced by individuals or small groups. These people are contractors and if they brand themselves they can….

  • Demand fair market price for their time and work.
  • Develop a following of readers who respect and feed off their work.
  • Work for news organizations when you need them and won’t eat up your budget when you don’t.”

His advice to journalists further down in the post to get busy with social media is right on target. So are his thoughts on personal branding. (Amy Gahran offers suggestions on acquiring “media career insurance” that I highly recommend as well.)

But if you’re in mid-career, as I am, and have left a newsroom environment, as I recently did, some of this is hardly realistic. The need to replace that income (while never substantial in the first place) makes the possibility of staying in journalism, even as a dedicated freelancer, out of the question for some. So does college tuition and retirement planning.

I get gutted every time I see mid-career compatriots walk out of newsrooms and the journalism profession altogether, and not because they wanted to (and they weren’t layoff victims.)

Some highly motivated, determined journalists have done well embarking on entrepreneurial careers, mainly on the Web, after many years in the print world. I want to join their ranks, but I am not optimistic that many journalists like myself will take a stab at it.

If I’m upset at anything, it’s that with the endless speculation about the future of newsrooms, the future of journalists with plenty to offer is treated with a mere shrug of the shoulder.


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