Journalists are struggling—just like everyone elseby Tom Streithorst / March 8, 2013 / Leave a comment
A few days ago, Nate Thayer, a reasonably distinguished 52-year-old journalist, received an email from an editor at the Atlantic. She had read an article he had written and wondered if she could publish a shortened version. He said sure and asked what they paid. A bit surprised, she said they didn’t pay for reblogs but he would get “exposure.” Thayer, who half a decade previously had been offered a $125,000 a year staff job by that very same magazine, told her he didn’t need exposure, he needed money. He reprinted the entire email correspondence, triggering a firestorm in the journalistic community.
The internet has transformed journalism and few in the industry are pleased. When I started working, consumers of news had a limited number of sources. If you wanted to know what was going on, you watched the BBC or you read the Telegraph or the Times. People working for those organisations had a captive audience, which meant their editors could afford to fly them around the world, put them up in a good hotel, pay outrageous expenses and also a decent wage.
No more. Consumers of news are now spoiled for choice. They still read the Guardian or the BBC website but they can find countless other sources of information. And young journalists desperate to become the next Ezra Klein are happy to write for free. Even in war zones, you meet rich kids with a camera, travelling on their own dime, hoping to build their reputation. As consumers of news we are blessed. As producers of news, we are screwed.
But this story is larger than just the plight of freelance journalists. The condition of all workers is harsher than it was in our parents’ day. It is not just blue-collar workers that are suffering. Lawyers, advertising creative directors, middle managers and even bankers are working much longer hours than they used to. Unless you are a professional athlete, the guy who had your job 20 years ago almost certainly made more money (in real terms), had more fun and didn’t work as hard. As consumers, we live like kings. Even people on council estates can afford flat-screen TVs that Gordon Gekko would have lusted after…