This month, I know two good journalists who lost their jobs when their prospective publications folded. Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily was one of them. It was making 6 million dollars a year but still not enough to stay in operation. In this same month, I got two requests to intern at the Japan Subculture Research Center. I’d love to have more writers but I have no budget to pay them. Well, maybe a cup of coffee or dinner. Whenever someone young (and I’m not young) asks me about pursuing a career in journalism, I don’t know what to say.
The big lie that journalists and most young Americans are told today is that working for free will eventually net them a job. The unpaid intern has become a wonderful source of exploitable labor. With people so desperate to get their foot in the door, many people are willing to work their ass off in the hope that someday they will actually get paid for their labor. Recently, a federal judge has dismissed that class action lawsuit filed last Spring by a group of unpaid bloggers suing the Huffington Post for pay, falling on the side of the Huffington Post. Of course, the class action suit was unlikely to succeed because the bloggers had all agreed to forfeit pay for “exposure.”
This business model of using unpaid journos and ripping off stories from the mainstream press will probably work for a few more years, until there are no paid journalists left to do the actual reporting. It’s partially a myth that bloggers are parasites on the mainstream media, and blogs do handle stories the mainstream media shuns, but if you look closely at the Huffington Post, a large amount of their material is still repackaging original reporting from the old established press. Citizen journalism is laudatory but investigative journalism is time consuming and expensive, and if no one pays for it–it will wither and die.
It’s enough to make a journalist a little depressed. However, it’s also inspirational material for retooling an old song, Smuggler’s Blues by Glenn Frey.
You may have to be a veteran journalist to appreciate this but I’d like to take a moment to dedicate this to those who remain.
The Journo Blues
By Jake Adeltein
(sung to the tune of Glenn Frey’s Smuggler’s Blues)
Dedicated to Arianna Huffington. Thanks for festering the dreams of a paying job as journalist
There’s trouble in journalism today,
I can feel it in my bones.
I had a premonition,
That I could not pay my college loan
I knew the future was not bright
But I didn’t think it would be so shrill
The newspapers exploded,
And the cash began to spill.
So baby, here’s your ticket,
Put the suitcase in your hand.
Time to quit the business,
Do it just the way we planned.
You join a wealthy PR firm
And we’ll both get twenty grand.
I’m sorry blogging doesn’t pay
And someone had to lose,
Forget investigative journalism,
It’s the journo’s blues.
No photographers and editors,
no fact-checkers but pay walls
The pink-slips and the rip offs,
And the typos no one saw.
No matter if it’s Lady Gaga, non-news, or trash,
You’ve got to rush the story
Cause it generates some cash.
There’s lots of shady characters,
Lots of dirty deals.
Rupert Murdoch will fire your ass
If you dare to squeal.
It’s the lure of lousy money,
It’s gotta very small appeal.
Perhaps you’d understand it better
Standin’ in my shoes,
It’s the ultimate red ink,
It’s the journo’s blues,
Stealing AP headlines,
You see it every day.
They say they’re gonna stop it,
But it doesn’t go away.
They move it through HuffPost, sell it in L.A.,
They hide it up in GoogleNews,
I mean it’s here to stay.
Blog for free they say
And eventually you’ll get a job
Intern all you want
You’ll just end up being robbed
It’s propping up the business for lazy media and you know who,
You ask any newspaper man,
He’ll say, there’s nothin’ we can do,
From the office of the NY Times,
Right down to me and you, me and you.
It’s a losing proposition,
But one you can’t refuse.
It’s the politics of free news
It’s the journo’s blues,