Will the new reality see journalists living like starving artists?
Go to any coffee shop and you’re bound to meet at least one day-jobber, someone doing something to pay the bills while they self-fund their true calling.
They are actors and painters and poets and screenplay writers, all in vocations their parents wish they’d abandon for the relative safety of secure jobs. Journalism used to be one of those secure jobs. But not anymore.
Some will be compelled to write, to hold the mirror up to who we are, whether they are paid or not. I know brilliant journalists who not that long ago were living comfortable lives scrambling now to make ends meet through blogging and teaching. More will join their ranks no doubt, some leaving the field for whatever work they can find.
Could this happen to other professions? It’s possible that there is a day not that far off when robots may make much better surgeons and we will have a nation of very over qualified deli counter workers.
But not now. It’s the thinkers that are in trouble.
Our society doesn’t particularly value thought or art except as opportunities for exposure through corporate naming rights and soirees. We treat them as niceties instead of necessities.
And when we decided a decade ago or so that content — ideas and words — the very fabric that holds us together, should be free, we forgot to factor in the part of the equation that pays the people who can make us think, who can take us outside of ourselves and make us want to be better.
Is that all journalists? Hell no. In my field, you deal with the best and the worst, everything from the brilliant and humble to the bullying narcissist.
But they are where our best hope lies. Journalists are trained to be critical thinkers and are professionally obligated to divulge conflicts of interests. There is a transparency we are still working towards in the blogosphere, where lines can be more easily crossed and not discovered for years if at all.
Mind you, journalism has not done itself any favours, helping to create a celebrity culture filled with disposable people. And now journalists are increasingly the disposable people.
I imagine generations of actors, some of whom have been dissected or, worse, ignored by the media must secretly love this. Critics who had so much sway over their careers, dragging them up and away from their barista days or casting them back down to a life spent living on minimum wage may soon be starving artists themselves. Their ideas are welcome if they’d like to share them on some blog, writing for praise but not money.
Doctors and lawyers are onto something, keeping their professions so clearly grounded in dead languages. They take a long time to learn and there is safety in that. It’s harder for others to assume they can do what you do because you make it look easy.
I do think as media outlets fold, we will tire of what comes to pass as journalism and out of the ashes some model will rise up. I hope so anyway. But along the way, many fine minds, like so many others in other undervalued professions, may be sacrificed, forced to work at jobs they can barely stand to fund the work they are called to do.
Our new reality maybe full of that which is free. But something tells me, it’s going to cost us dearly.