I am now wrapping up my first semester of J-school, and I keep hearing about how all the layoffs at newspapers are actually good for hungry young new journalists. Hungry young journalists like me, that’s the implication. Although I’m not so new, and not really quite so young. Hungry, yes, but that’s just cause I love food.
It occurred to me the other day that the hungry young journos of which they speak are basically like the sweatshop workers of the media industry. They’re cheap. They’re nimble. They’re non-union. They’re easily and frequently outsourced and subcontracted. Being young, they’re less likely to get pregnant and demand crazy things like maternity leave. They’re the low-cost replacement for what used to be respectable middle class union jobs available to people without a college degree. Sound familiar, Detroit?
Actually, the solution being proposed for the changing newspaper industry is the same as the solution to the changing auto industry: hybrids.
So many professors and industry-watchers say that the only jobs left in journalism are for hybrid journalists, who can write for print, write for the web, produce audio, shoot video, and post it all themselves on a brilliantly designed web page. For the one person who gets those five or seven jobs, it might be a sweet deal. For the people who get laid off, not so much.
And for the readers? I’d venture to say that one person doing all those things, on deadline, might not do them as well as someone trying to do just one. Multimedia elements can definitely add a lot to a story, and some people and outlets do hybrid journalism really well. But this is a time when so many issues demand sustained and focused in-depth reporting – the financial crisis, the crisis in veterans’ care, the continued crisis in the Gulf Coast, to name just a few. I worry that both readers and editors will confuse deep coverage with shallow stories told from many angles.