Professional Journalism is Gasping for Air
A tale of calamity in the age of information
Published: Monday, October 7, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 7, 2013 13:10
“If we do not have subscribers who are willing to pay for our information we do not have a future,” John R. MacArthur, publisher of the Harper’s Magazine said, in an interview given to The Vice Podcasts, referring to a discussion he had with his employees who were concerned how to deal with competition that the free-information-driven web has created in dawn of the age of information. Harper’s magazine requires its’ subscribes to pay money for the content but this appears to be a challenging business model at a time when everybody wants to get free information from the internet.
Indeed, professional print journalism has become one of the most endangered professions in the world today. I’m saying this as someone who had lived and embraced the internet-based, free-information-loving culture. Even though the information age has given an opportunity for many people to publish their own blogs, political opinions and share news and personal stories, the value of the written word and the value of professional journalism has certainly depreciated.
Ironically, one of the mains causes of this calamity is the availability of free information produced by journalists who are willing to work without getting paid. During the summer, I did an internship with a local newspaper. Understandably, my internship was a not paid one but I was surprised to hear that in this particular newspaper, even the full time staff did not get paid.
I was surprised why all these people had to work for nothing. If journalists are going to create a culture where they have to produce free information for zero pay, they are writing their own death certificates. One the other hand, if the readers are expecting journalists to provide authentic information for free, I will guarantee that over time the quality of journalism will diminish.
Like any other professionals, journalists also need financial sustenance in order to write good stories. For an example if a journalist wants to write a good investigative piece about, the oil boom in Williston, North Dakota, he needs to visit the place and live in the cultural landscape to get an insightful understanding. Now, are there many other sources and information about this topic on the internet for free? Of course there are, but a unique point of view does not come out, based only on these external sources. Therefore, journalists need financial support and time to do intensive work. If the free-information-loving-culture continues, journalists will only have limited resources to produce a good stories and thus the quality of journalism will deteriorate over time.
As media consumers, we have to understand the fact that so called “free information” does not come out of the blue. Most of the news blogs, freelancing news sites which are mostly conducted by part-time journalists, who acquire information from the work of profession journalists and professional media organizations which are spending money to gather these insightful information. For an instance, if a professional journalist in New York wants to write a story about the Syrian War, she has travel to Syria in order to get insightful information and understand the dynamics of the war. In order for her to go to Syria, the media organization has to spend money.
I’m not arguing that there aren’t professional journalists who write for free, who are willing to find authentic information in creative ways. I recognize that the web has also created new avenues which never were possible in the past. For an example citizen journalism has become prominent nowadays with programs like CNN ireport. At times, citizen journalism can be used to collect important evidence or records in special circumstances but neither the citizen journalist who provide unedited information to the masses nor the absolutist journalists and consumers who believe that all the information should be free, can undermine the act that professionalism cannot sustain with a sans-pay culture.
Even if it does it will last only for a short period time and many major print news organizations toady face this challenge. The surplus of sans-pay journalism available on the web, create an unhealthy competition against professional journalists who are committed to produce high-quality work.
One day I dream to be a professional journalist and travel throughout the states and the throughout the world to bring authentic stories to my readers. I understand that my dream is limited to a narrow scope since professional journalism is endangered. But I do not want totally lose my hopes since I believe in finding new ways to incorporate the web and producing high quality writing which hopefully, will be appreciated and paid by my readers.
Samantha is a senior majoring in journalism.