News writers are in a helluva fix. Despite spanking brand new news websites, micro-local blogging and dedicated journalism programs trying to figure out how to attract and retain readers, the future is bleak for writers. For it is a future which includes diminishing career prospects.
The fundamental nature of the paid writing career is being turned upside down with these emerging business models. That’s because none of them effectively address the issue of paying writers a living wage. Almost non existent in most of these new programs is any opportunity for advancement within the company or organization.
The labor is cheap for news sites and organizations. The unions are weak and there are few pennies being thrown to writers.
For most writers the future is freelance. The future is without benefits. The future is pay based on how many people click your story. The future is you get your $50 per story, shoot art for that story, hyperlink like mad, and get happy.
The ongoing changes have been fast and furious for writers. Besides layoffs at newspapers, periodicals and other news organizations, writers have had to grapple with learning new technology all the while finding that there are fewer outlets for their work.
Back in the day, journalism was one of the few stable careers that paid writers. Once the work of the blue collar set, by the late 70s journalism had been embraced as a career choice for college graduates. By the late 90s, it was very rare to find a journalist who had not attended university.
And while the pay was always low, at many places there was a nurturing of talent, some advancement opportunity, and the pride of covering your community and feeling like you were part of something larger. It was a career and a community. If I met a reporter from Miami, or Iowa, or Bakersfield, I felt a kinship with that beat reporter or editor.
That’s all over. From my vantage point, you’d be a straight up and down psycho to want to get into news reporting if you’re a young pup. Where’s the payoff? Yeah you got 250 to read your story (if you’re lucky), but you’re still ass broke with huge college loans. What happens when you reach your 40s and you want to settle down and buy a house?
There will always be news organizations like the NY Times that can scrape up the cream young journalists and pay them a nice salary. But, the majority of original reporting is done at the local level and I can guarantee you that unless new programs invest and nurture their talent, there will soon be a steep decline in news quality.
Locally, the Bay Area News Project seems like it will pay a living wage and that is very good. But that project is very much the exception. Right now the Baby Boomers are retiring and the Gen Xers are fleeing journalism fast as they can.
Jennifer Inez Ward