Are the Internet and the blogosphere turning journalism into volunteer work, an avocation instead of a vocation?
Recently I’ve been contributing posts and comments to Universal Hub (http://www.universalhub.com/), a popular and spirited blog for news and opinion about life in Greater Boston. Universal Hub has been the site of some lively and informed discussions (links below) about the future of the city’s two daily newspapers, the Boston Globe (http://www.boston.com/) and the Boston Herald (http://www.bostonherald.com/).
Like many large dailies, both papers have been struggling with losses of advertising revenue and subscribers. This has led to the downsizing of newsrooms, with dozens of reporters and columnists being let go or bought out. Although the consensus emerging from the discussions on Universal Hub is that the city needs its daily newspapers, I cannot recall any poster seeing a viable future for them in their current forms.
When I was growing up, I received advice on more than one occasion along the lines of, “if you can write well, you’ll never go hungry.” I think back to those words when I assess the state of news coverage & commentary. The shrinking of newsrooms translates into fewer full-time jobs for professional journalists, ranging from veteran reporters and columnists to folks right out of journalism school. In the meantime, bloggers everywhere — practicing what the folks at Universal Hub aptly call community journalism — are contributing useful news items and informed commentary, but most are not receiving any compensation for their work.
As the Information Age continues to go digital, we now expect online content to be freely accessible without charge. But we rarely think of this as a labor issue, failing to consider, say, that free online access may be depressing reporters’ salaries and eliminating paid positions in newsrooms. The digital highway certainly has created a lot of jobs, but ironically it may be contributing to the demise of journalism as vocation.
Newspapers, like so many other institutions, are very slow to change, and it’s clear there is no agreement on a sustainable path as a larger and larger share of the public gets its news from online sources. For well over a century, the daily newspaper has played a vital role in shining a light on matters of public concern, spearheaded by professional journalists who know their craft and dig for the story. Blogs like Universal Hub are a wonderful complement to, but hardly a substitute for, our daily press and those who report on and investigate the world around us.
For those who want to check out some of the Universal Hub discussion threads about newspapers, see http://universalhub.com/node/22751, http://www.universalhub.com/node/22682, and http://www.universalhub.com/node/22501.