This month’s carnival of journalism topic comes from Michael Rosenblum, who asks: “Can a good journalist also be a good capitalist?”
Journalists aren’t well paid, on the whole. As someone not so far away from entering the job market, it’s daunting to think how competitive those meagre entry-level jobs are, and just how much it’s cost to get this far. At face value, it seems you’d have to be crazy to go into journalism for the money.
To most aspiring journalists, the lack of capital floating around within the industry seems irrelevant though, and I understand that. We aspire to good journalism, and to telling a story that matters to people. Most of us never aspire to making money: journalism is a passion first, and, ideally, also serves as an income. Therein lies the problem – good journalists just aren’t capitalists.
We’re not really driven as an industry to make money; it’s an afterthought, or something for the finance department to worry about. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there’s a problem with prioritising a passion for journalism, but to disregard the need to capital entirely is naive.
To simplify, this industry is making massive losses, partly due to circumstantial changes such as the development of online news, but also due in part to the journalist’s lack of capitalist nous. There’s no reason why good journalists can’t also be good capitalists, there are just hindering factors.
We can easily point to the period of uncertainty that the industry is currently in, but there are also hindering factors closer to home, such as journalists taking a “news-only” stance. They do the news, that’s it. It’s close-minded, and unhelpful. As young journalists, we are told that we need to be a jack of all trades to get anywhere, and that should include a capitalist mentality.
Ideally, we need to nurture an environment of experimentation in the ways we sell our work. This exists on smaller scales already, where hyperlocal blogs and start-up online magazines (for example) are flexible and trying to exploit multiple revenue streams and creative advertising, but it is harder to find at the nationals, or even in local papers.
The industry’s current approach to money seems to be more about limiting losses through job cuts and “trimming the fat”. This is painful, and necessary in all companies to a degree, but if we keep cutting and keep aiming to just minimise our losses, we will die out. With innovation and experimentation, we can find a way to make journalism sustainable. We need to be capitalists as well as journalists.
It’s this desperation for innovation and need for change that excites me about the news business; I want to be a part of it. It’s this climate of extreme uncertainty that yields the most exciting business models, and can result in such massive success. If we can change our attitudes towards making money, we can not only continue doing the jobs we love, but we might even make some real money in the process.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look