Uncertainty looms over professional journalism

It’s not easy being a journalist.

Fall14Mag_OxyTalkSure, you may not be as physically taxed as a surveyor who spends his day walking a variety of rough terrain (I’ve done that), as monotonous as working on a production line in a factory (I’ve done that, too) or potentially hazardous as working the graveyard shift at a minimart (done it as well), but journalism has plenty of its own drawbacks. But, like those other jobs, we signed up for it, and unlike some of those jobs, we love what we do.

But one thing we have in common with those jobs tend to share is uncertainty as far as their futures.

For surveyors, it’s the lack of surveying work that often comes with better technology and less market demand for fossil fuels. With factories it’s, of course, outsourcing and robotizing. Minimarts … well, they come and go pretty frequently, often with just as many empty ones as occupied ones.

The journalism industry has uncertainties of its own. But, in a way, its uncertainties are both counterintuitive and obvious.

Now, there is one thing in increasing demand that journalists provide: Content (aka news … usually) . People never get sick of it, despite often complaining about the negativity or bias of it. Like it or not, you’re a creature that craves information, whether it be on government or sports. People hunger for it 24/7.

But, that doesn’t mean that the market is doing well.

The word that a major Arkansas newspaper, one I used to work at, laid off 27 employees really hit home for me. You see, journalists are much like people in other industries. Many of us know each other, at least in the same state, and a lot of us have worked with each other at one point or another. It’s sort of like a club. A club that at this time, seems to be kicking out members.

Maybe not every one of those 27 people has a family to support, a lease on an apartment or car payments to make, but their colleagues still feel for them. Everyone of them is a loss and for many of us, we fear that we may be one of them some day.

In a way, I guess you could say that our industry was hit with the internet much like the dinosaurs were hit with a killer asteroid millions of years ago. We’re in the process where we’re having a mass die-off of newspapers. Papers who cannot shrink or adapt to the new market are dying off or being eaten up in a process that is both fast and slow.

We local papers are weathering things a little better than many, but that’s largely because we provide content you won’t find anywhere else … well, at least until the TV or radio station steals it. National, statewide and major metro newspapers, though, are having a harder time of it. They’re the Godzillas and King Kongs of the business and they’re running out of food.

What I mean is that not only are they often scooped, but their content is also swiped and often rewritten to be used by someone else. The internet is essentially full little mosquitoes linking to and borrowing from news organizations, often not crediting or giving their own superficial view with a simple link. It’s a model that worked, but what happens when the big boys are finally drained?

I guess there will always be radio and TV … then again, maybe not.

But one thing I do know is that we’re not really operating in the same world as we used to. We’re no longer newspapers, radio and TV, we’re multimedia content makers using a variety of platforms. We either learn to use those platforms and generate money from our content or we die.

Of course, advertising just isn’t what it used to be and it’s the thing we all battle for. Without it, there’s no content and we have the problem of advertisers not wanting to pay for advertising like they used to. Instead, they’re turning more and more to places like Facebook and Twitter where $1 can often reach a wider audience than a newspaper or TV ad.

So, when I look at the journalism industry, I see a lot of dinosaurs struggling to survive under the dark skies of a nuclear winter. Much like those surviving dinosaurs evolved into birds, I guess journalists are evolving into content creators.

Originally printed in the Batesville Daily Guard.

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