News Articles

Left Coast Bias: A Self-Hating Journalist Comes Around (a Little)

6/20/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern

I used to claim that working at a television trade brand, I had the least important job in the world. I mean, what is more banal than writing about television for people who work in the television business?

Recently, I think I helped chase a young journalist out of the profession. Just let go from his job, he came to me to talk next steps. I asked him if he was intensely passionate about being a journalist. He said no.

So I asked him why the hell he would stay in a profession that is sinking fast, and usually pays like crap anyway. He's now working in reality TV. Insert your own joke here.

Why the negativity toward the field? As a former public relations executive, I think I was (and still may be) a self-hating journalist. After all, journalists always choose snark over optimism, never let facts get in the way of a good piece of fiction and seldom shower.

But two things have happened recently to bring me around a little. One is the absolute bloodletting of the journalism industry from newspapers to television news departments; second is watching how frightening and dangerous a place can be without a strong and free press.

Imagine for a moment living in a country where there is even the question of a rigged presidential election. And then having the government crack down on how the aftermath can be covered.

Now that is not going to happen anytime soon here, but it is the extreme case of what life would be like without a powerful and free press.

And such a thought can now enter into the conversation domestically due to the massive cutbacks at newspapers and television outlets around the nation. Forget causes and blame; the bottom line is as a collective, the power of journalism to unearth important stories and provide checks and balances has been significantly weakened.

How to fix this dilemma continues to be the question keeping anyone in the media business up at night. What's even more frightening is that no one really has the answers, though there are plenty of suggestions.

For instance, Arianna Huffington gave a confident speech at the recent Mirror Awards for media journalism, denouncing pay walls online. But then she sacked the chief executive of her buzz-worthy Huffington Post less than a week later, so apparently she doesn't have all the answers either.

Believe me, neither do I. But my typically uneducated two cents is that everyone needs to stop giving the milk away for free—yesterday. (That goes for television shows online, too, by the way, but that's a whole other column.) I always say if Morton's charges you $50 to eat a great steak at the restaurant, would you expect to be able to get the same steak for free if you do take-out instead? Makes no sense.

The bottom line is the eradication of the journalism industry is a problem that has to get fixed soon. It's too important. A blogosphere does not a fourth estate make.

This is why I don't joke about being a journalist anymore. It's actually pretty important after all.

I even tried to do my part to save newspapers the other weekend. I bought a Sunday New York Times at a Starbucks, cover price: $6. When the lady rang it up, it popped up as only $5. I told her I owed her a dollar. She said not to worry about the missing money.

Indeed.

E-mail comments to
ben.grossman@reedbusiness.com

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