One of the first thing my journalism professors warned, back when I was but a college freshman, was that we’d never get rich writing for a newspaper. It wasn’t a threat or an admonishment, warning us that we were making foolish choices. It was stated as a matter of fact: There’s not a ton of money in writing news.
After half the class had left and changed their news-ed majors for something more lucrative, like PR or advertising, the professors continued: If you learned how to report the news and write clearly and concisely, you’ll always have work. There’s always a job for someone who can find and write news.
If you want money, marry someone rich, they said.
I’m thinking about that a lot these days as everyone and their brother predicts the end of newspapers. One of the folks I follow on Twitter said that “The Internet is 62% porn, 35% TED talks, and 3% people talking about how newspapers are dead.” I quibble with that: Better than half of the stories, posts and blogs I see complain that newspapers are on their way out.
That causes a lot of concern amongst my ink-stained brethren, and I’ll admit a few sleepless nights for me. It came up this weekend at my newsroom’s annual meeting: We can blog, we can go live, we can Twitter all we want. How do we make it pay?
No one, except for the Wall Street Journal, seems to have figured it out. They talk about charging subscriptions, while people across the room bristle at the mere thought. Personally, I don’t like the concept of philanthropic groups being the sole support for news coverage, but I don’t have any alternatives to offer.
What I’m about to say is going to sound like a total cop-out, a lie or complete naivete: I don’t really care. I think most working journalists would agree with me.
We didn’t care when newspapers were hauling in the big green. Some of us worked at union papers, but even those folks struggled to get paychecks commensurate with nontenured teachers.
We bitched and moaned and struggled like hell to pay our bills, taxes and whatever else. But in the end, we did the job because it’s what we did. We wrote news because we knew how to do it and we wanted to know what the hell was going on first. We wanted to be the ones to tell it. We had fun doing it, and most of us would’ve done it for even less than what we were paid.
And when we got tired of that, some of us quit and got real jobs in real offices with real paychecks. And we missed our newsrooms like hell.
We’ve never had to worry about the newspapers’ bottom lines before, but now it’s all anyone can talk about. And the question is, what can we do to keep things from going under?
To that I say, do what you do: Cover the news, write the stories and be a general pain in the ass to everyone. Whether it’s delivered on paper to someone’s front stoop, deposited in their E-mail in-box, gathered on their RSS feed or Twittered and talked about by pundits from Drudge to Kos, there will always be a demand for real, professional news coverage and someone is going to figure out how to make it lucrative.
But the pay will still stink.