An Alternative Future for Journalists

There’s no doubt that the number of traditional journalism jobs is shrinking, and shrinking fast. I struggle to think of a single publishing company that hasn’t had layoffs or title closures in the last few years.There is, suggests David Meerman Scott of the WebInkNow blog, an alternative:

You went to J-school to learn how to tell a story in words and images. Yes, the employers who traditionally hired your skills are shrinking fast. But there is an entirely new world out there for you to consider. Please keep an open mind about this.

I’m not talking about PR and media relations here. This isn’t about writing press releases and trying to get your former colleagues to write or broadcast about you. Instead, I’m talking about creating stories as you are now, but for a corporation, government agency, nonprofit, or educational institution instead.

The pay wall is a vision of the past, a retreat to a model that looks all but identical to the print days. It is a gamble on structural stasis through a change of medium. This is an alternative vision, one of complete disruption, of businesses that use journalism, but who monetise and exploit it in totally different ways. 
Is there a middle path?
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  • Martin Couzins

    We are already seeing businesses hire full time writers. I agree – time to keep an open mind and keep an eye on who is hiring – it won’t be traditional employers.

  • A middle path between what? PR and journalism? I often think that media’s institutional constrainst, the constant deadline pressure etc, make innovation very difficult, and perhaps start-ups are in a better position to lead the way in the new communication landscape.

    Still, innovation does happen even within MSM, e.g I think what you’re doing with blogs for RBI is great;-) Meerman Scott is right that there is, or should be, a huge demand for good story-tellers in the PR/information industry as well, but this is another industry that was, or was supposed to have been, disrupted by all the changes in the communication landscape.

    It’s certainly not a place to retreat if you don’t want to deal with social media, but at the moment I think the communications industry is at least as confused about social media as the media industry. There are innovative agencies and people around, lots of snake oil salesmen around, lots of companies that want to use social media and/or story-telling as just another sales channel around, lots of companies who shouldn’t really be in PR in the first place but are, and the traditional press release, as long as it’s well-written and targeted, still works: I see these re-printed in newspapers all the time;-)

    Now, I’ve worked as a PR manager for Visit Britain and I’m more than ready to think there are companies out there who will let their information and PR exces experiment with new techniques for telling stories and communicating with their target audiences in ways most media organisations won’t, but this picture is mixed. Perhaps as mixed as it is for the media industry, and many of the challenges are the same.

  • Yes, I think there is a middle way, or rather other ways. We’re going to see a lot of experimentation in the way that journalism is organised, is paid for and how it pays journalists. We’re already seeing different models for innovation in journalism. I am looking forward to exploring some of those models myself.

    Kristine, I remember when I was in Norway last September, and someone asked if the crisis wasn’t bad enough. I instantly understand the intent of the question. If the crisis were worse, there might be more motivation to innovate in organisations or more room for innovative projects outside of those organisations.

    I think the crisis doesn’t need to get any worse. I know social entrepreneurs are already at work looking to innovate around journalism. If you look at some of the problems that have plagued journalism since long before the current crisis, it points the direction to opportunities where digital can do it better.

  • I’m just in the middle of writing a series of posts called RIP Sub-editing 1987-2008 – a eulogy to my 20 years of subbing. I don’t sub anymore, or at least as a dedicated task, but I am employed to create digital content and that involves quality control as well as writing, editing, image work etc. I also blog for brands, fortunately editorial for users rather than rewriting PR messages.

    What astounds me is that people are creating some amazing journalism for themselves – and with the new tools, they don’t have to be a journalist to do it. Talk About Local and Help Me Investigate to name two.

    So I’m looking forward to seeing what ‘classically-trained journalists’ will come up with if this is what the ‘amateurs’ do. Have you seen Pictory Mag, for example? Essentially this is a site of curated picture captions – it’s beautiful and addictive and is run by a former photo mag editor.

    Personally, I’m looking at an alternative future for my travel writing. No budgets there anymore! So I’m testing out a series of travel journalism experiments on my travel blog. It’s a process rather than big lightbulb moment. Now I’m starting to get press invites based on having a blog rather than a commission. Which is a much freer and more interesting world of content than trying to pitch past the mates of the travel editor for a narrow writing remit.

    I agree that there is an alternative future. We’re in the middle of creating it.

  • This ‘alternative future’ has a lot of promise for journalists who are prepared to think in the right way.

    But it’s about breaking down what you love about journalism the most, and wrapping business ideas around it. If you love storytelling/filming/writing for the hell of it, then does it matter whether your clients are MSM or a non profit who needs compelling content?

    Or like FionaC above, if you love travel journalism above all else, does it matter your work isn’t being bought by the Sunday Times?

    I quit my job in MSM last year to pursue some of these ‘alternative futures’, and like FionaC says-we’re all in the middle of creating it.