Journalism school "after newspapers"

I went to see a panel earlier this month entitled "What Comes After Newspapers?" 

All in all, it was fantastic- you can see the entirety of it here or just read a fuller summary of it here

After an evening full of really interesting talk about the currently tumultuous state of journalism, the panel opened up for questions from the crowd. Most of those questions ended up concerning some really specific things about the field or about local SF news media. Fortunately, I was able to squeeze in to ask the last question of the night, and I made it really general (you can see the video of me here):

What would the members of the panel say to a young person deciding whether or not to go to journalism school?

Although Phil Bronstein weighed in by saying, essentially, "I'd tell him/her to go for it," I think two things about the room's response suggests that many other journalism professionals would advise otherwise.

One is that everyone *cracked up* when I asked the question, even though I wasn't at all trying to play it for laughs.

The second is Bronstein's off-hand comment in the middle of his spiel about how UC Berkeley journalism grad students are doing local reporting as part of a joint program with the SF Chronicle: "Now, if we'll be able to pay you if you're one of those [reporters]... we'll have to see."

Call me old-fashioned, but: If there's no guarantee that a paying position will be available at the end of it all, why would anyone invest the money to train or intern in a certain professional field?  It seems to me that the proponents for journalism school may have to start coming up with more convincing arguments, because I, for one, wouldn't buy it.

A bug's eye view on African aid

This past weekend's WSJ had a great piece written by an African woman, Dambisa Moyo, with a unique view on foreign aid to Africa. 

I really have no strong, well-formed personal opinion on the matter. Well, that's not exactly true-- I was happy to see the WSJ somewhat affirm my gut feeling that Project Red is sketchy at best and ineffective at worst.  Even I, a faithful Goop subscriber, can't pretend that this wasn't one of the most misguided ad campaigns ever.

Anyway, the WSJ article is long and somewhat complicated. Though it's worth reading the whole thing, I've pasted what I think is the 'nut graf' (journo speak for the part that tells you in a nutshell what you need to know) here:

Even what may appear as a benign intervention on the surface can have damning consequences. Say there is a mosquito-net maker in small-town Africa. Say he employs 10 people who together manufacture 500 nets a week. Typically, these 10 employees support upward of 15 relatives each. A Western government-inspired program generously supplies the affected region with 100,000 free mosquito nets. This promptly puts the mosquito net manufacturer out of business, and now his 10 employees can no longer support their 150 dependents. In a couple of years, most of the donated nets will be torn and useless, but now there is no mosquito net maker to go to. They'll have to get more aid. And African governments once again get to abdicate their responsibilities.

Steel-tipped real talk

I hate to participate in whatever's left of the Web 2.0 echo chamber, but I couldn't hold myself back from commenting on the Huffington Post's most recent Julia Allison interview

I basically got all John Edwards in there, stopping just short of telling personal tales of helping my dad shop for steel-tipped work boots while growing up in Appalachia. (No, seriously, I could have done that. Red Wing Shoes in Monaca, PA, holler back!)

Normally it doesn't bother me when journalism is a bit elitist, because I understand the need for glamor and escapism. But sometimes it's just distressing how painfully out of touch some publications are from reality.

In the HuffPo interview, Julia dismisses jobs with the potential to pay "$50,000 a year" without directly mentioning how much she makes doing things differently. Well, it was reported earlier this month that her NonSociety venture pulled in net revenue of $60,000 last year. For those of you counting at home, that's $20,000 a year for each of her website's three editorial contributors, before paying for the site's programmers, hosting, servers, et cetera.

The elephant in the room, of course, is how she and her co-'Lifecasters' are really paying for their lifestyles.  I know there is a tiny, lovely, lucky group of people who, often because of a blend of familial support and a lack of student debt, don't have to pursue 9-5 jobs in their 20's. I think that's fantastic, really, and I can't knock them for it-- who knows, maybe someday my future children will be fortunate enough to be included among them. But I think it's strange for someone in such a rare and privileged position to publicly put down a certain occupation, or the kind of salary it can bring in.

What is even crazier to me is that reporters at publications like HuffPo are apparently also so out of touch that they don't call her out on it-- instead, they run stories about how Julia Allison is pioneering a new "business model" and a revolutionary form of "personal branding" or something. Um, what?

My alloted 250 words of real talk below (my comment is still pending, so I'm posting it here in case it doesn't make it past the HuffPo interns):

"Let me preface this by saying: 1. Julia is an acquaintance of mine. I wish her the best, because I like her. 2. I am a salaried journalist, and I only wish the best to our industry.

"But I've been so irked by one thing Julia said in this interview [regarding a young adult's possibilities for compensation in journalism]: 'You can make what? $50,000 a year?'

"The cavalier way this was said and reported makes me both sad and angry. I'm sad for the insane class discrepancies in our country, and angry that her comment was published without any qualification by what is supposed to be an exceptionally conscientious publication.

"Am I the only HuffPo reader who grew up in a town where a family bringing in anywhere close to $100 grand a year is one of the extremely lucky ones? I'm 25, so inflation isn't completely to blame for my perception. I mean, the 2007 census listed the US median *household* income (implying 2 earners) was $48,000.

"What young adult would ever publicly scoff at the chance to earn $50,000 a year, especially in a profession that does not require working swing shifts and wearing steel tipped shoes? Lots of people proudly work much harder than me and Julia to bring in money like that, and we *need* them. 'Lifecasting' does not an economy make.

"Are we in the media really all such spoiled brats? If so, I suppose that may help explain what ails journalism, and why many Americans no longer pay to read what we're writing."

Liz Smith on the Internet

Last week, Liz Smith, the New York Post's legendary 86-year-old gossip columnist, gave a pretty fascinating interview about her recent layoff to Lloyd Grove, who also happens to be a legendary erstwhile gossip columnist (he wrote for the Daily News.) 

(Forgive me if any of the aforementioned info was unnecessary-- I never know how much of this semi-insidery media stuff is general knowledge, and how much shorthand I can use when talking about it. When I lived in New York it was pretty much impossible for me to go a day without buying the NYP or the NYDN, because how could I not?  They only cost like 25 cents and were pretty fun to read, if only for the gossip columns and horoscopes.)

Anyway, both Smith and Grove were recently fired from their NYC gossip gigs, so you could tell in the interview they are kind of like old friends, sharing war stories and shaking their heads together about "the world nowadays."

Although a lot of things in the interview did not make sense to me-- who prefaces a $125,000 salary in journalism with the word "only"?--  I did kind of agree with a few of her sentiments. One in particular has kind of been echoing in my head for a few days:


I don’t think [news websites] mean anything either, except they mean instant success for these very, very energetic and ambitious young people. And it’s perfectly fine, but I wouldn’t give any credence to most of the stuff I read. ... We’re going to have the Internet even when we don’t have things to eat. We’re going to still have it.


My question is-- is that a good thing?  She doesn't quite seem to think so, or at least she's still on the fence.

But some people, like those at, say, One Laptop Per Child, would argue having Internet access and information is more important than-- obviously not food or water-- but many, many other material things that previous generations may have seen as signs of success. 

As for me, I'm honestly not sure if I think Liz Smith has a great, common-sense point of view, or if she's just missing the point.