There is no safe terrain for journalists

The continuing decline of big-city newspapers like the Denver Post, profiled here in the Denver magazine 5230 by former Postie Robert Sanchez, is heartbreaking. Buyouts have gutted coverage of local news, and a remote, out-of-touch owner doesn’t help.

A newsroom that once had 350 is down to around 100. The remains are scant: One reporter covering education in a growing metropolitan area and another to track health care in all of Colorado; five business reporters in the economic and financial hub of the Rocky Mountain region; a young  web staffer who files an average of 100 stories a month, and in the rush of a frantic job sends an e-mail to a colleague, forgetting she had taken a buyout.

This is not a new story, and as one newsroom survivor interviewed in the story wonders: Where does this all end?

Well, it ends when your job ends—when you’re the one escorted from the building with security, only moments after hastily being told to clear your desk—or when the newspaper closes down, as did the Post‘s archrival, the Rocky Mountain News, a few years ago.

Yet those who are trying to carve out a journalism career on the all-digital side are struggling as well, according to this from Columbia Journalism Review. After being booted out of both the newspaper business and a digital media entity, I was nodding my head at so much of this, especially the prospects for the “digital native” generation that faces increasingly long odds of having a long career in the profession.

Fewer journalists are working now at newspapers than in online-only ventures, but Alex T. Williams reinforces what many of us have known for some time:

“With fewer journalists working today, reporters are becoming increasingly concentrated in coastal cities, investigative journalism and local statehouse reporting is declining, and the ratio of journalists to public relations specialists is widening.”

I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve applied for online-oriented positions that fit my skills perfectly, for journalism work that could be done anywhere, only to find out that I’d have to relocate to New York, or D.C., or Silicon Valley or L.A., outrageously expensive places even for veteran journalists who’ve made some money.

For young people with college debt, low wages and grinding hamster-wheel job duties, the future doesn’t seem bright at all, at least in terms of outlasting this transformation, whether it’s with a legacy organization or a digital start-up.

This shakeout will probably continue past my working days. But who will be the reporters covering schools and health care in flyover country, statehouses in the South and economic development in the Rust Belt?

Will there be any?

That is the long-term devastation that many have feared, and which seems to be more clearly coming to pass.

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