decline of newspapers, has occasioned a lot of discussion about the
value of content. Not all content is suffering; despite rampant piracy,
Hollywood box office is up, and the movies just had their first
billion-dollar January. Yet judging from what I paid this morning to
read a slew of expert reporting and commentary online, the value of
journalistic writing in the marketplace is not at all high.
Everyone knows the consequences of that for newspapers—it’s killing them.
The Internet has brought the newspaper business
to its knees. Some serious magazines are undergoing stress tests of
their own. Maybe a certain kind of writing about the world, informed by
underdog experience and lower-class perspective, will also prove to be
a relic of the dead-tree era. Such writing wasn’t in great supply
before. But movie stars, business executives, even accomplished authors
all write for free these days. Why should some kid nobody’s ever heard
of get paid?
I’m not sure if this guy’s ever heard of the enduring tradition of unpaid newspaper internships, whereby inexperienced people work for either a pittance or entirely for free in order to gain “experience” before they’re deemed worthy of a paycheck. That practice, along with such legalized slavery as the Chicago Tribune’s 2-year “residency” program (after which they kick your ass to the curb), has been around for several decades at least, but it’s the Internet once again that’s destroyed the value of words.
(I won’t go into the corporate greed argument again, you all know it, I’m tired of reiterating it, and anyway newspapers have always paid for shit and told people it’s part of the romantic charm of the job. Half the time we believed it, too.)
I’ve got news for Mr. Wilkinson. You want to know how writers who don’t have a trust fund do it? We have day jobs, for the love of God. Until we hit that six-figure deal (which, paid in installments, after taxes, spread out over 12 months, is a good living but not a great one by today’s greedy standards) we’re office workers, bartenders, waitresses, whatever else will pay the mortgage and keep us in typewriter ribbons. I suppose in his mind that makes us hobbyists, but hey, it keeps the lights on.
It’s not that his concerns aren’t valid, journalism needs to be more of a trade than a profession anyway, but is there anything more useless than a column bemoaning elitism? You want to talk about how to preserve writing as an occupation for the poor, how about talking about reforming elementary education in cities and poorer suburbs, and remaking college journalism so as to conform less to theoretical wankery and more to practical training?You could start by pointing people toward a cause or two that, if they were all that concerned about helping kids get into this literary life (sigh), they could contribute to. That might be helpful.
As opposed to bitching about how the Internet once again is screwing everything up.