Solo journalists and the economic enigma
Robert Niles hits a critical issue in local journalism with his post “Doing journalism in 2010 is an act of community organizing“.
An incredible number of newspaper jobs were eliminated in 2008-09 (40,000 in 2009, and 21,000 in 2008 according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics), and many of these journalists are taking a shot at running their own local news website. Writes Niles:
Many people who leave the paper for the blogosphere are running one-person shows. As such, they need to not forget about those other important roles within the newspaper business: editorial page advocacy, community leadership and, yes, ad sales. If you’re running a one-person shop, you can no more afford to abandon those roles as a newspaper could afford to dismiss everyone on its staff who fulfilled them.
Trouble is, the modern newspaper is filled with highly specialized positions. And worse, people are discouraged from performing another professional’s duties, such as a reporter taking photographs, or a copy editor writing editorials. That’s not a problem when staffs are big, but those specialists are ill equipped when they’re on their own.
Niles focuses on the community-building challenges of solo journalism, and I totally agree.
I believe the toughest line to cross will be economic. Solo journalists must learn how to run a business and ask for money. And that’s something they have been specifically trained to believe is antithetical to journalistic ethics.
Fact is, journalists in the 19th century managed to drag a press across the plains, set up shop, write news, sell ads and print the thing. Somehow journalism survived.
Today’s solo journalists can and will figure out how to do it again, but they’re up against some huge societal and cultural barriers, not to mention their own career experiences.
These newly solo journalists need to face those realities head-on, as they invent new ways to do local journalism — before their severance runs out.
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