Journalism – the worst of times and the best of times?

Posted on July 26, 2012

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Do you work in journalism? Or do you have a journalistic job?

What’s the difference? A recent piece by EContent magazine (Is it Content or Journalism?)  quotes Mike Mandel from the Progressive Policy Institute (I hadn’t heard of them – maybe I should have) as saying the growth in journalistic jobs at organisations, corporations and “new digital news channels” more than offsets declines in traditional journalism in the media.

Now I feel like this is an important post, one I’ve been kicking around for a while, so excuse me if a lot comes from the heart rather than data.

Since leaving a media company job last November, one where I was at times responsible for dozens of journalists, to work in a world where my company produces content for others, usually not media companies, this rings true.

I love journalism. I love it done well. But the whole world knows strains put on business models have eroded the amount of good journalism that can be funded  across print, TV, radio and even online.

There are exceptions. There is the odd quality commercial publication knocking it out the park (think Economist). But in general, even if revenue from online ads is growing across the board that isn’t the same as saying online news organisations are on the up and up.

Then there are public service models around the world such as the BBC. But when was the last time you even heard someone at the BBC say how lucky they are?

And some would point to new models such as hyperlocal, crowd-funded publications, which are of particular interest to me. But there are big challenges here too around sustainable, certainly scalable business models.

But in general you hear of more journalism jobs disappearing than being created. And of the new jobs, more tend to be at the low end. Senior journalists and editors leaving or being laid off and so entering other professions is commonplace.

Many of these people are moving into forms of commercial content. The Custom Content Council in the US puts 29 per cent of 2011 marketing and ad spend in content marketing, with two-thirds of the organisations it polled saying they’d be increasing that allocation this year.

That sounds about right to me. I blogged elsewhere that 30-70% of mainstream glossy publications’ revenue (note, not all media) is now from this source. I know of publications where it is even higher than  that 70 per cent mark, certainly in tough quarters.

Someone has to produce all that content. Whether it ends up sitting in an established publication – think supplement in print or microsite online – or whether it is standalone, on a brand’s blog, infomercials, events or something as ambitious as an Amex OpenFORUM, there is a need for these journalistic jobs.

So for journalism, it can well be called the worst of times. Sadly, just because it can’t be properly financed it doesn’t hold that the world needs journalism any less.

But for journalists, those with those “a very particular set of skills”, to quote a Liam Neeson character, the upcoming years will present arguably more job opportunities than ever. Just not in journalism.

Photo 50th anniversary – III by Peter Denton is used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic (CC by 2.0).

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Follow Tony on Twitter – @tphallett

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Posted in: Hyperlocal, Media, Work