Reporters are being laid off in waves. Pressure from Wall Street on print media is requiring change to century old business models. And police seem increasingly willing to use force when reporters are in the way.
Here are seven reasons it’s getting harder to be a First Amendment warrior in the Age of the Internet.
Just when you mastered the inverted pyramid, built up the contacts for your beat, and learned the vocabulary of your beat, along came Buzzfeed and totally obliterated it all. Because people like lists. And cats. And lists about cats. Heck, you’re reading one right now.
Sure, not everything Buzzfeed does are lists, and the writers there do some decent articles, too. But if we’re honest, we have to recognize the magnetic power of the list to create views. I think the appropriate term is “click-bait,” perhaps? In any case, it’s just not respectable for real reporters, right? Can you imagine Robert Gehrke writing a “Top Ten Ways John Swallow Totally Broke the Law at Krispy Kreme.” You went to journalism school to be part of a long and prestigious profession full of high ideals and narrow columned print. And now: lists about cats? Lulz. When will it end? Reporting on the Kardashians’ opinions on foreign policy? (Quick, create a list for that: “10 things Kim and Kanye have said about American involvement abroad.”)
Working for Peanuts
It’s more lucrative to be a “PR professional,” spinning the news, than as a journalist, reporting and analyzing it, and getting more lucrative every day. In 2004, the average reporter made $.71 for every dollar the PR specialist got. By 2013, the reporter’s salary had dropped to just $.65 for every dollar. Meanwhile, the ratio of PR specialists to reporters is growing, as well.
Those pesky kids do it for free, they self-promote like crazy, and they aren’t constrained by those even peskier constraints journalists have to deal with on a daily basis, like editors, word count constraints and…oh, other stuff. And, because they post on the internet–just like real journalists–half of readers look to bloggers for seriously serious newsy type stuff, while the other half don’t read anything–blog or newspaper–in the first place. (Did I say half? I meant ninety-six percent. Only four percent of online readers in one particular survey, that I’m cherry picking, got their news from “front section” news sites). (Yes, I know the numbers don’t add up. They don’t have to add up; I’m a blogger).
There was a day when newsprint was king and William Hearst became a national power through his newspapers (I suppose the modern analogue would be Rupert Murdoch, but scandal and diversity of information sources have diluted his influence). Today, print media struggles to attract the advertising dollars that are flowing to internet advertising, broadcast media, and cable media. Heck, in 2013, print advertising attracted barely half what cable attracted. This is a sign that advertisers increasingly see other ways to get in front of consumers as more effective than print media.
Wall Street Pressure
Wall Street is less of a fan, trying to squeeze more profits out of print media. How big an impact Wall Street is having is debatable…and the Salt Lake Tribbies are fully ready to dive into that debate head first.
When things go south…and badly
I could be wrong, but I believe that except for in some rare circumstances, the First Amendment protects the recording of police behavior. That doesn’t stop reporters from getting caught in police tear gas, handcuffs, and jail cells on rare occasions. Clearly, this isn’t Egypt or Russia, but still, it’s a bit shocking when it happens here (like it did last night when Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post report Ryan Reilly were detained (but not arrested?) at a McDonald’s in Ferguson, MO. Read Lowery’s account here.
BONUS: Making Video
It’s not enough that journalists gotta write a story, but they have to think about taking video for the online edition, too.