Do you hunger for stories, or hunger for sales?
If the question for this month’s Carnival of Journalism is “Can a good journalist also be a good capitalist?”, I’m immediately minded to ask instead “Should a good journalist also be a good capitalist?”
Michael Rosenblum asks why journalists can’t get themselves together and charge more for their work, or take on more of a business and entrepreneurial role. There is definitely something in what he says. For a long time I have argued that the big media companies are going to have to get used to being smaller, and becoming more like commissioning houses. Need coverage of an eco issue? Go to an eco-journalist who runs their own site. Building up niche audiences by specialising in a specific topic, and then cashing in when the commissions come around will be one way that journalists might scratch out a digital living. But it isn’t going to be a cash cow.
I’m also reminded of something I’ve seen Karen McGrane say about the UX world, where lots of people seem anxious to prove that they can be an IA and a UXer and an interaction designer and a visual designer and a developer. She says look at the end credits of movie. There are hundreds and hundreds of names with hundreds and hundreds of weird job titles. Hollywood studios know that it takes all of these people to make a film. Nobody goes into a big film production saying I’m going to be the sound engineer and the key grip and write the screenplay and sing the theme tune and plan the marketing.
There is a place for specialism, and journalism can be a specialism. Rewriting press releases doesn’t take much effort, but taking a complex series of events, synthesising them into a narrative and conveying them to an audience is a skill. Coaxing information out of people in an interview is a skill. Interrogating data to prove or disprove the arguments of a politician or elected official is a skill.
But no journalist worth their salt wouldn’t write about a plane falling out of the sky on their hometown because it happened on a Thursday, and Thursday is the day you’ve set aside to phone local businesses to drum up ad revenue.
I think you have to ask yourself, do you get out of bed in the morning with a burning hunger to find and uncover stories, or do you get out of bed in the morning hungry to make sales?
I’m unconvinced that you can do both.
This is my contribution to January’s Carnival of Journalism