July 31, 2014
Ithaca, NY 70°F | Clouds

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News content compromised by business reality, and where’s our future?

For start-up journalist like me, two most important questions I ask: Where does journalism get the money from and is the digitization of media revitalizing the morbid industry? Pew Research recently published two studies that attempt to address these two questions.

Source of revenue is something I always think about from the day I decided to be in journalism: where does the money come from? How do news organizations pay their employees a decent wage with the stuff they are producing? Especially for community newspaper, the subscription fee is barely enough to cover anything and no one seems to be reading the paper either.

How do good journalists have their ends met?

What I was thinking before was: if you write good articles and you are a good journalist. Someone will pay you somehow. And that is true to a certain extent. Al Jazeera, probably one of the best news organization in the world, is funded entirely by the Qatari government. They don’t have to worry about revenue streams, that’s why they can focus entirely on quality content. CCTV, the state media in China is also entirely funded by the Communist Party. Companies like Al Jazeera and CCTV do not have to worry about recruitment like other companies do, because they can offer the most competitive salaries and they can always get the best and the brightest in the industry. (A reporter job requires a minimum of 10 years experience, what the heck?) So if you are good enough of a journalist, having your ends met with a big surplus wouldn’t be a problem. There will be people, either the government or billionaire like Pierre Omidyar who are willing to pay you. But for start-ups like us, that’s simply not an option.

Online Digital Content Generation

Then we move on to the article about the growth in digital reporting. As most people are starting to get their news from online sources, there are a lot of things could be done there. News media are relentlessly looking for creative ways to increase web traffic and to attract readership. For the tech savvy millennial generation we have much to offer in that area.  Positions like “Digital Content Manager” and “Social Media Intern” are quickly emerging, none of these position existed ten years ago. News companies have invested heavily in their online portion. As I am getting more active on Twitter I realize how much traffic a news site can create simply by constantly tweeting links to articles with interesting nut graphs. Hopefully this increased traffic will also drive up revenue so people won’t be massively laid off in the near future.

What about “real journalism?”

It’s so sad when news content must be compromised by business reality. Publishing a “Miley Cyrus tweeking” story is definitely more profitable than a story about a Middle Eastern conflict from a business standpoint. As journalists, it is our responsibility to report on issues of social importance. This ideal is not always in line with the reality.

It’s becoming an inevitable trend for media start-ups to go into the digital/online kind of work, but how can this experience help us build up our portfolios so we can become better journalists? That’s my biggest question and my biggest concern.