In 2020 Let’s Pivot to Journalism

Wow, nobody’s coming to save journalism, big fucking shock to everyone who isn’t an idiot pretending to be a smart person or a smart person pretending to be Roman Roy: 

“A reckoning” is next, they said. Publishers regret undervaluing their own audiences in favor of brand-diluting social-first content. While interviews for our earlier reports revealed a willingness to shift strategies and fall in line with platform maneuvers, publishers now believe that they must regain control of their revenue streams and put their own audience interests above platform demands. This means a renewed focus on owned-and-operated properties, where publishers control audience experience, data, and revenue.

Publishers now require far more compelling evidence that platform products will be fruitful for their businesses before agreeing to devote time and staff to them. “A year ago [our attitude was], ‘Hey, why not? Let’s give it a shot. [It’s a] fifty-fifty call,’ ” said one local publisher about participating in new platform-product rollouts. “Now somebody would have to show me pretty clearly that the benefit was likely, rather than fifty-fifty, for me to make the change.”

How is it a revelation that if I’m going to put time and money and resources into something it should be likely to benefit me? How is that some kind of admirable sentiment? Wow, such wisdoms, many wows.

You know, it’s really hard to congratulate publishers on coming to Jesus after they’ve already set all the money on fire and fired everybody. Happy you showed up, I guess, but your predecessors dynamited the place so you’ll pardon us if we don’t throw you a party for getting here now.

I’m angry about this stuff because I saw how much of the destruction happened to newspapers before the mobile Internet really took off, and I’m incandescently enraged about this stuff because in my off-time these days I raise money for a journalism venture and goddamn if every single day somebody isn’t trying to figure out a way to do anything BUT throw money at journalism.

“What if Facebook …”

“What if Google …”

“What if Apple …”

“What if this one consulting firm …”

“What if this spin-off events company …”

“What if this special edition …”

What if YOU, how about? What if you just did what you know needs to be done? What if you just did the work? What if you stopped flailing at every trend you heard about at a conference in the hopes that somehow this would magically become easy, and if you just … got the ten best people you know in a room, and you figured out how to do what you know needs to be done?

I see this screaming all day long, from actual no-shit journalists who should know better: JOURNALISM IS EXPENSIVE. SUBSCRIBE TO YOUR LOCAL PAPER! The former isn’t true and the latter has nothing to do with anything.

Journalism costs money, sure, but it’s not the biggest cash-suck at a media organization, not by any means. CEO bonuses and shareholder dividends and high-end real estate and consultant contracts are expensive. Debt service is expensive. Journalism, compared to those things, is cheap as shit, especially now, when you don’t HAVE TO print it out on dead trees and send tough dirty children to yell READ ALL ABOUT IT.

(You could, and in some cases should, still do that, but you don’t have to.)

Subscribing to your local paper, unless said local is independently owned and operated, just puts more money in the hands of people already acting like hundred dollar bills are the only things with which you can light a fire. Giving money to anything owned by the company formerly known as TRONC is not supporting your local, hard-working journalists, because the ex-TRONCs are taking 75 cents of every dollar and using it to pay off serial sexual harassers and give investors Christmas presents.

The only thing that is going to work going forward is putting all the money toward doing the thing that needs to be done, which is running a news organization. If that’s online, on paper, on TV, whatever, as long as money goes to the journalism. That’s the only thing that’s going to “save” journalism, and it’s about time people figured this out and stopped waiting for some other solution to descend upon them from on high.

Platform initiatives are a bridge for some publishers; for others, however, they’ve become a lifeline. One social media director told the Tow Center, “We absolutely need the money that they’re giving us to innovate, or have a shot at growing our audience, or even [figure] out a path to a subscription strategy. So I am thankful for the money, but I think there’s also some resentment…like, I’m just tired of being at your beck and call.”

No other company is going to have your company’s interests at heart, is the thing. I see so much bitching about Facebook and Google “stealing” or “sucking up” all the ad revenue, as if Facebook and Google somehow owed it to traditional publishers to be dumber, lazier, and poorer than they could be. Far be it from me to defend Zuckerberg or any of his ilk but expecting him to not take advantage of an opportunity is unfair.

You want something stronger, you gotta build it yourself, not just bitch at big tech and yell at your customers and potential customers. Journalists putting a “see, you should pay for this shit, you ungrateful heathens” at the end of every story are pitching their efforts at persuading the wrong people. Direct that sentiment at the boardroom, and if the boardroom won’t listen, direct it to the mirror and found your own fucking newsroom.

Yeah, it’s hard. Yeah, it sucks. I wouldn’t be out here yelling this at you if I didn’t know firsthand how hard it is, how much it sucks, and how little sleep it’s possible to survive on. And if anything else in the history of anything had ever just once fucking WORKED, I wouldn’t be out here telling you to get a day job and eat ramen so you can manage an employee buyout at night or whatever if this really means that much to you. If anything else does work, I ain’t seen it yet.

Facebook and Google don’t care. The execs don’t care. The shareholders don’t care as long as they get paid. So therefore it follows that if you’re the one who cares you’re the one who has to do it.

I know so many dedicated journalists out here busting their asses to turn their indie media profitable, to transition legacy presses to nonprofits, to keep nonprofits going, to run investigative shops on their own, to unionize and organize and fight like fuck to keep the lights on, and it’s an insult to their every waking hour to act like there’s any other way to do this.

Build your own good shit. Stop expecting someone else to be the fire brigade and pick up a bucket.

A.

One thought on “In 2020 Let’s Pivot to Journalism

  1. JTO says:

    A.

    I started commenting by reposting your quotable quotes in affirmation – and appreciation. Then, I realized, I had just ctrl-c’d almost every graf, changing key words to focus on politics and community organizing.

    This is the work that has always been. And always will be. We who don’t know this don’t know this because we are lazy, dumb sons and daughters of lazy, complacent parents. Community organizing and politics has never been boring or someone else’s job amongst the struggling. Only the struggling are whiter and more professional now. They have degrees and believed that a hundred grand household income would solve all current and future problems.

    But as Johnny Cash used to say – troubles are five feet high and risin’.

    Now, whether it is a journalist or adjunct professor who believes his skills are best used cynically holding court at the coffee shop rather than knocking doors and asking questions of the city council – or even better – teaching more and more people how to knock doors and prepare effective remarks for the city council while doing the same – or someone who is more concerned about the firmness of mangoes and his own abs than the state of his world – the work is always the same, and always there. And every day, that work gets harder because there is more of it.

    Bluegal mentioned the problem of optimism being it eschews work. And pessimism just reinforces work’s futility. But those are both feelings. This isn’t about feelings. It is about work. Pain. Suffering – both before, and now and forever more. There is only one way to stop it. Because, as you said:

    “Yeah, it’s hard. Yeah, it sucks. I wouldn’t be out here yelling this at you if I didn’t know firsthand how hard it is, how much it sucks, and how little sleep it’s possible to survive on. And if anything else in the history of anything had ever just once fucking WORKED, I wouldn’t be out here telling you to get a day job and eat ramen so you can work a (campaign) at night or whatever if this really means that much to you. If anything else does work, I ain’t seen it yet.”

    Thanks, A.

    Yrs, In Solidarity – from the Arctic Socialist Hellscape of Brown Cheese and Waffles.

    JTO

    PS – I have started asking my town councilmen and women – “what is our plan for x?” And ‘x’ is everything I care about. What is our plan? What are we doing? I asked my bank, my grocery store manager. CO2 footprints and ocean acidification, reforestation and renewable energy. Pension plans and health care. Potholes and curbside recycling. I ask. So far, just some embarrassed fucking crickets. But, people need to know what the plan is, and that it will get us there. Me too.

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