If you’re from Seattle, are a journalist or if you’ve read this blog in the last few days, you’ll probably know by now that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is being sold. With that in addition to major layoffs and bankruptcies, it goes without saying that journalism–at least print journalism–is suffering.
This issue has been on my mind pretty much since college because it came up in almost all of my J-classes at one point or another. Now that is how to truly inspire young and eager minds: tell them they’re entering a dying field. Nothing is more encouraging for a young person fresh out of college to hear than the fact that the odds of them finding a well-paying job with which they can support themselves (without having a second or third job) are very slim and have gotten even slimmer because now they’ve got to compete with a couple hundred more people who’ve just been laid-off, have years–sometimes decades–more experience than they do and are going for those same exact jobs. That’ll really get them excited and headed in the right direction (toward the unemployment line).
Okay, so that was a very bitter and depressing paragraph and I definitely went off on a tangent. The point I was trying to make was that I’ve known for a long time that journalism isn’t what it used to be; the “old ways” just aren’t going to cut it anymore and I’ve been thinking about this more so lately with what’s been going on with the P-I.
While some of these issues (with journalism in general, not just the P-I) stem from the field itself, I believe some of it also comes from the recession we’re in the middle of.
So, the real question is what’s going to be done about it?
In the last few days, I’ve come across some interesting reading material (or as Wynn might say, reader material) that discuss a possible solution. With everybody from the auto industry to the porn industry asking for a bailout, it’s been asked, why writers can’t get a bailout too?
It’s an interesting question. Why can’t we get a bailout? I mean, it’s been done before back in FDR’s time with the Federal Writers’ Project (something I didn’t know until this past week), so it wouldn’t be the first time writers have been paid with taxpayers’ money.
Daily newspapers are massively cutting back staff, on the auction block (some with no bidders), facing bankruptcy, or simply folding. This is largely due to a collapse of the old newspaper advertising model thanks to the web. The result is thousands of writers, editors and reporters are looking for jobs and a new media model has yet to emerge to pay for their services. And it might take a long time, if ever.
In other words, we could definitely use a boost.
Now I know many journalists would be wary about having the federal government bailing us out because it would give them the right to have some say in how we do our jobs since it’s taxpayers’ money. That right there would be a violation of the First Amendment and that whole, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” thing.
So, another option would be to do what the government did the first time around and fund research projects to compile local histories and create extensive guidebooks for each state.
But if that’s been done before, why should we do it again? Well, it’s been a good 70 years and a lot has happened since then. Mark Pinsky at The New Republic suggests chronicling the “Great Recession,” the transition to a green economy or capturing the experiences of the immigrants who have changed the face of this country. In his article, Pinsky said, “the new version would focus in particular on those segments of society largely ignored by commercial and even public media” adding that “the forum of the Internet could make these multi-media interviews widely available to schools and scholars, as well as to average Americans.”
As Jafar would say, the idea has merit. Journalists get work out of it and the rest of the country get a great resource.
Some people would argue that journalists could just join the 21st century and venture online to do their jobs. While this is true and some do do that, it’s not the most practical solution. Steven Rosen at the Cincinnati-based publication, CityBeat said, “they are often labors of love that generate little income.” He makes a good point. It’s very difficult to make money online.
And then there’s a whole other suggestion on what to do with the bailout money: pay writers not to write and make them choose a different profession. Paul Greenberg wrote an essay in the New York Times suggesting just that. Greenberg is hilarious with defining certain “terms of the bailout” and suggests writers’ domestic partners transform from “emotional custodians” to “fiscal custodians” who would make sure no new writing activity happens.
Apparently, this worked for farmers who were paid not to grow certain kinds of crops. However, I highly doubt it would work for writers and journalists. Greenberg also has his doubts. He asked several hundred authors if they would give up writing “‘if given a subsidy with no strings attached that would support you at a comfortable income level for the rest of your life.'” Ninety-six percent of responses said they’d keep writing as much as they do now or more.
I’ve got to admit that I’d be among that 96 percent because I don’t think there’s anything that could stop me from writing. Sure, sometimes I take long breaks but I honestly don’t think I could stop. I mean, writing (and reporting) is how I make a living but then you’ve got to look at what I do in my spare time (besides read). I write. I write fiction; I write poetry (not as often as before); and I write this blog. That in itself goes to show that this is a profession where it chooses you and not the other way around.
So, I’m obviously open to a federal bailout for journalists (not just writers) but then again, I’m a journalist and this is just one of those issues where it’s virtually impossible to remain fair and objective. In this particular case, I’ll admit it. I’m biased.