Blogs > 37th Frame

Photography, notes, commentary and much more from former Reporter Online Editor Chris Stanley.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

It is about the money

 What the public hears about the profession of journalism these days is pretty bad, and journalists themselves are usually the first to lament the state of the industry and debate what can be done to stop the bleeding.

 Most of my colleagues say they got into the profession because they love reporting the news, chasing down breaking stories, holding government responsible, and creating a sense of community and a world that has become very fragmented. At local papers, they are often very connected to the communities they cover.

 One thing I hear often is 'I didn't get into journalism for the money...', followed by a list of things they love about the job - meeting new people, experiencing humanity at its best (and worst), being the first to break a big story, crafting an article, photo or video to tell that story in the best way possible. Over the past 25 years I have experienced all of these things - all the stuff that makes up everyday life with hundreds of people both in my own neighborhood and beyond. I sat in the living room of a family that lost their son to a war less than 24 hours prior. I have stood on the sidelines at Eagles championship games. I flew upside-down in a stunt plane. I met Darth Vader. I have photographed every president since Gerald Ford. I have been in the middle of riots, protests, peace marches, vigils, parades and memorial services. Even the day-to-day stuff was enjoyable - connecting with readers and bringing them a view of the world just outside their doors.

 And no, I didn't get into this business to get rich, I got into it because I liked the work and found it meaningful.

 But don't confuse that ideal with the business side of the profession - it is about the money in as much as there will not be any journalists if a new business model isn't found. Traditional revenue streams are drying up quickly, and the scramble is on to find new ways to pay for it all. And while media companies are trying everything from pay walls and mobile apps to tablet giveaways and sponsorships to find new revenue, they are aiming for a very fast-moving target that will likely continue to stay that way for a long time.

 Journalists need to be aware of that business, understand the economics of the web, explore new ways of story-telling, and be willing to accept that perhaps they way things have always been done might not be how they can happen in the future.

 Yes, some projects will never generate revenue, but are worth pursuing anyway simply because they are important. And sometimes taking on something just for the love of it with little or no pay can lead to opportunities that will eventually deliver a check. These are all decisions that must be weighed carefully.

 But to simply ignore the revenue side of the profession in the long-term is foolish. Nobody will do this for us -  face it, many would be happy to see local media just fade away. We have to be honest about what works and what does not, and set aside assumptions about the value of what we produce. We must be willing to try something new, even if it doesn't fit into the 'traditional' way of doing things.

 If we fail to do this, journalism will become a hobby instead of a profession. That is not enough.

 The job I loved may not be around for much longer. With some imagination and open minds, however, maybe it will change into something else just as meaningful and enjoyable.

Note: I was a photographer at The Reporter for 27 years, and an online editor there for 3 years. I am currently part of a team setting up and training colleagues in several states on a new computer system that will allow journalists at dozens of Digital First Media properties to work together in the 'cloud' on both print and online products.


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