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The print vs. Web sticking point: Jobs (Thoughts on nnbn)

March 2, 2009
From left Cory Haik (Seattle Times), Jay Rosen (on screen, NYU), Kathy Gill (Univ. of Wash.) and Art Thiel (Seattle P-I)

From left Cory Haik (Seattle Times), Jay Rosen (on screen, NYU), Kathy Gill (Univ. of Wash.) and Art Thiel (Seattle P-I)

It was about halfway through last week’s No News is Bad News forum — after some arguing that had gone on — that I had an epiphany and made this observation via Twitter:

Figured out animosity: Old print focus is on how to save *jobs* not journalism. New journo landscape will prob be a lot less populated

(Quick aside, too: I won’t do a straight wrap up of nnbn, as plenty of people more eloquent than me have already done so.)

For the record, I don’t have any problem with people trying to save their jobs and I’m not trying to just piss people off by making this argument. I understand that people’s livelihoods are at stake here. But — at some point we have to make a distinction between saving journalism and saving journalists’ jobs.

I had hoped nnbn would be a healthy discussion of the former, though being realistic, I expected mostly the latter, which is what happened. No problem with that, I guess, it just seemed like a misuse of time to me. Here we had some of the best journalists and journalistic minds in Seattle, in one room, and instead of talking about what we could do collectively to get up tomorrow and help save the business, we ended up fighting over how much AP content was in the Times and P-I.

As P-I staffer Curt Milton told me, “Anger [is] one of [the] 5 stages of grieving.” That’s fair. It’s a lot easier for me to say, “Layoffs? Whatever,” because I’m 25 and it’s not like I have a mortgage to pay or a kid to put through college. I just thought it was the wrong time and place for anger because I thought the intent of the panel was to discuss ways to make this journalism gig profitable again. (Maybe the event’s somewhat flimsy focus statement — “Seattle as a no newspaper town?” — was to blame for that.)

My fear is that this anger is going to perpetuate until we really do run out of time. These people — Web-centric and print-centric journalists — get together so infrequently that any large meet-up seems destined to devolve into a fight. And I don’t think anyone disputes that it would be really nice to have both sides involved in a conversation about how to kick-start the journalism industry and steer it back toward profitability. We need to stop having fights and start making plans. And in order to do that, everyone involved needs to accept a few truths:

  • Print journalists are the Obi-Wans of the industry and can teach the new school some cool, if not essential, tricks (investigative digging, etc.)
  • Bloggers and citizen journalists have been doing for 10 years what mainstream journalists should have been doing
  • Certain sections of the SPJ ethics guide are going to have to be bent or thrown out entirely (more on this in a future post)
  • For the foreseeable future, the journalism ranks are going to be a lot thinner than they once were or than they are now

That last bullet point is key because it underscores the fact that not everyone is going to make it. We’ve gotten to that point — to use my first Battlestar Galactica reference — where those of us who can make the jump to hyperlight have to go and leave a big section of the fleet behind. It’s sad and gutwrenching, but if we’re going to focus on saving the industry or the concept of journalism, we have to accept it.

Journalism will be a much leaner beast when we get out of this.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 2, 2009 11:24 pm

    I was out of town last weekend and didn’t get to write up my impressesions of the No News is Bad News event, but I’ll try to do so this weekend.

    I’ll probably focus on the anger, which seemed to surprise many but shouldn’t. This is a painful process and it takes time. Print media folks did what asked of them for years and now they’re being told that that isn’t good enough anymore. They’re wondering what they did wrong and they’re angry. Some of that anger is about jobs lost, of course, but much of it is about the end of careers that these people loved dearly, were incredibly passionate about, and that they are very sad to lose.

    You’re right: There are going to be lots fewer journalists for a while. That’s the reality and we need to face it.

    I hope the next NNBN meeting, which will focus on new directions, will be more constructive.

    Ain’t change grand? :)

  2. March 3, 2009 3:42 pm

    Agreed with both you, Paul, and with Curt.

    I think that maybe “event 2” as it is currently code-named will be more up your alley – at the moment is shaping up to be a panel about the business models that can work.

  3. paulbalcerak permalink*
    March 3, 2009 10:03 pm

    Curt: I agree and I sympathize with anyone who’s lost their job or stands to, though I honestly can’t imagine what it feels like. I especially feel bad for those who have changed with the times and brought their work to new media only to find that it still isn’t enough.

    All kidding aside, maybe what we need one of these days is a dedicated two hour vent fest where everyone can throw out all their anger and frustration. Who knows? Maybe it would be therapeutic or even spawn some good ideas.

    Jason: Sounds like my kind of thing. I liked your idea earlier today about “widgeted” content. I’d like to be in a forum where ideas like that can be posed to a guy like Boardman.

  4. March 4, 2009 8:22 am


    I’ll have to think back to last week and see if I remember anything about that.

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