Bootstrapping by journalists is an old tale

Karthika Muthukumaraswamy is understandably concerned what the decline of major reporting projects by mainstream news organizations portends for the future, and how this could further discourage young journalists like herself from pursuing them:

“While this ‘journalist as entrepreneur’ model is fueling important stories that might not otherwise get covered, it is also dangerously shifting the costs of reporting on to the shoulders of young, enthusiastic reporters.”

I’m not trying to engage in any generational warfare here, but this scenario isn’t limited to journalists of a certain age group.

She needs to look no further than the hundreds of mid-career journalists all around her who are starting their own sites or participating in new-fangled news ventures in truly spartan fashion, using limited funds from buyout money, unemployment benefits and savings with no guarantee of anything working out. They’re having to pay for expenses that their employers used to handle. If ever there was an ideal time for journalists to demonstrate their resourcefulness, this is the time.

My scattershot past in this profession — I’ve taken part-time jobs and freelancing gigs to pay the bills — has given me a point of reference. More than once, I’ve subsidized my desire to stay in journalism with other sources of income. My story is not unique.

But forging ahead with the newspaper industry in such a perilous state is quite unnerving. There aren’t many other familiar places to land any more. Creating a new course is exciting but extremely daunting, and many from the print world are undergoing a major learning curve about what it means to be a Web journalist.

I wish there was something more encouraging I could say to Karthika and those of her generation except not to give up on the kind of work they truly believe in doing.

If they do, they’ll find a way through the bleak times. If this sounds like a matter of faith, it is.

Right now, that’s all some of us have to go on.

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2 thoughts on “Bootstrapping by journalists is an old tale

  1. Thanks for the response to my post! I totally see your point. And while I may have used the term “young” in my post (an indication of the two specific examples I was talking about), let me assure you that I’m in no way assuming that only young journalists are bearing the brunt of this jouranlist-as-entrepreuner model.
    I certainly agree that journalists everywhere, at every level are redefining their skills and mindsets, which is in itself a good thing – I am certainly a proponent of the distributed access that the Internet provides.
    My concern in that article was mainly that a lot of media experts and proponents were hailing this concept as the journalism of the future. That was merely a cautionary warning against that idea becoming mainstream thought because it would, clearly, not be a sustainable model for journalism in the long run.

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  2. I think the experts you mention in most cases are stating what they think will happen. Some may want this to take place and believe it’s better than what exists now.

    But none of them or anyone else really knows how this is going to play out. I try to encourage fellow mid-career journalists like myself to think and act as news entrepreneurs, even though many of us have never had to do this, because it appears the best way to fare in a media environment that’s a mix of new media experiments, freelancing and contract opportunities.

    Regardless of anyone’s age or level of experience.

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