We don’t need more journalists. We don’t run out of television screens and planes, we run out of empathy & ideas.
“Right now, we don’t need more engineers. We don’t run out of television screens and planes, we run out of food”. In Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar the world faces a crisis and a college head spells out supply and demand economics.
It sparked a thought. Right now, we don’t need more journalists… that seems to be the message from Buzzfeed and Huffington post execs, and the reverberations couldn’t be scary enough.
Two hundred layoffs, and more to come, as journalists brace themselves. The Guardian’s headlines summed it up Future of digital journalism in question as BuzzFeed and HuffPost lay ….
Or is this just hyperbole? Another film comes to mind The Big Short. Out of sight, as capital moved inexorably to the Geckos et al reaping huge rewards for them, a couple of people had an inkling something was wrong. No one else could see it coming. With respect, the announcement of Buzzfeed’s layoffs feels like a Big Short. Who’s next? There just isn’t enough money swilling around for those ( shake head ) margins of profit. The comparisons stop there; the journalists are not the villains, but somewhere unbeknown to many a catastrophe lay weeks, months, years ahead. Who new — with certainty?
Combining these anecdotes, what does this mean for journalism’s future? Hard to say, but the bitter taste lingers.
In this week Media pundit Jeff Jarvis penned a recent post which caught traction. In summary, those who denigrate social media, have little understanding how it’s been the amplifier, the conduit for unheard voices. Jarvis cited the benefits to African Americans, among others. I’m black British and can confirm how digital, and social changed my life.
Anything beyond fifteen years is difficult to imagine. A world without digital seem unfathomable. You might just as well think that’s when dinosaurs walked the earth. Yet not so long ago, when traditional media was the only media in town, perhaps your voice, but most certainly mine and others I knew could do very little to leverage a good idea to an audience.
Digital and social, re: the first dotcom boom and before offered a tantalising future of taking on legacy media. Broadcasters couldn’t figure it out.
In 2006 wiring for the UK Press Gazette on innovation I said:
…the architecture of combining tried and tested media — text, podcasts, trackbacks, video — with synchronous online behaviour and the enviable YouTube engine which has real power.
If tech was the shot in the arm, it’s also been the “affable” bogey man. Unfettered, unconstrained, who would have thought Facebook, and some might add Google would be where they are today — analogous to the neutron bomb. The infrastructure stands, everyone else perishes.
It’s equally difficult to remember that at some point as Facebook was languishing along, unaware how it would make money, but gradually hoovered up people to its platform, that attention would be the new, if not, only currency. That one day when ad spend online overtook offline, was a day to rejoice. Anyone promoting their voice online, had a shot, but to cite another dystopian film, “not like this, not like this”. Too late you’re unplugged.
Except we’re now wired into a system that has complete control over our lives. As journalists we understand we need to use them, but that dependency is also an undoing. The larger picture is digital, but help is not in sight.
We all got in on the act. Each person and outfit proclaiming either supremacy or how they would change the world. Remember Rocket Boom. video podcasts in the vein of The Daily Show. We laughed until it was no more.
“The world needs farmers, good farmers” says the Character in Interstellar. I tell you what, in journalism, the world needs explainers, and highly skilled word and image surgeons to cut through the sub-prime baloney infesting everyday discourse, to tell us what the hell’s going on.
Traditional media, at least those whose income is guaranteed need not worry. Yet here’s a radical thought, if you’re paying the license fee, why don’t you get the chance to elect who’s going to be part of the public broadcaster for journalism. Imagine if journalists put themselves up in the way politicians did, explaining what they would do and being held accountable. That would alter some of the ineptitude in reportage screeching across screens.
Fanciful thinking, but we enter a troublesome period for this thing we call journalism. Netflix isn’t renewing its long form journalism it got from suppliers. After buzzfeed who’s next? And with a new generation seeking to enter this profession how do they make it to that place and insulate themselves from the uncertainty of a career to pay the mortgage — if they can afford the house.
A.I and a paraphernalia of innovations loom, but the one thing both friend and foe, we’ve not innovated is a system of economics predicated around capitalism lush. The need to make money above any sentiment to live and be comfortable with your lot. Reform is needed, and in this climate it’s going south — the wrong way. We are going to run out of journalists, otherwise they’ll be run out.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is a top writer in Journalism on @medium. He is based at the Cardiff School of Journalism, and is an international award winning innovator in journalism and videojournalist. You can find out more about him from his J-Lab site www.viewmagazine.tv