What do journalists and starving artists have in common?

I’ve picked up on a journalists-as-starving-artist meme lately. (Okay, two columns mention it, both on Truthdig.org.)

As Alan Mutter said of young journalists in his Reflections of a Newsosaur blog, “The starving-artist lifestyle may be colorful and appealing for a while, but it gets old fast if you are bunking on a friend’s sofa, living under the same roof you did in junior high and lying awake at night wondering how you are going to repay your staggering five-figure student loan.

“If nothing changes, the next generation of journalists will give up and move on to entirely different pursuits. And you can’t blame them.”

And Chris Hedges predicts:

Journalism will again become what it was more than a century ago—a form of art. It will be as concerned with truth and beauty as it is with justice. It will no longer speak in the deformed language of balance and objectivity but instead be a conduit for unvarnished moral outrage and passion. It will, like classical theater, be relegated to the margins of society but will endure for the literate and the moral. It will sustain all who seek to live with a conscience in an unconscious age. Journalism will survive, but it will reach a limited audience, as the sparsely attended productions of Aristophanes or Racine in small New York theaters are all that is left of great classical theater. The larger society will be deluged with propaganda, spectacle and entertainment as news. Those who carry the flame of journalism forward will live lives as difficult, financially precarious and outside the mainstream as most classical actors and musicians.

Sign right up kids! I’ve never written a ‘holy-f**k-my-chosen-industry-is-imploding’ post, so now is a good of time as any to offer up a few personal observations.

1)I started in journalism in 2002. The magazine I worked for at the time had about 25 full time foreign correspondents, maybe 8 domestic bureaus across the country, and a few more around the world. There are now less than 5 full time foreign correspondents, no more foreign bureaus, and a handful domestic bureaus left. This trend, as has been well documented, has been repeated in many other news organizations.

2) In the past two years, half of my friends in journalism have either been laid off or switched careers. (How many friends do I have? Good question!) To put a number on it: I’d say I know sort of well about ten people who’ve left or been pushed out. But it almost feels like the majority of the people I entered the profession with are no longer in it.

3) I really love what I do, and I feel it’s a privilege to be able to do it. So am I going to abandon ship? Well, I’m probably not employable in any other field, so the answer is no. However, it’s bit disconcerting to look at the various options out there…Marginal future, here I come!

4)What’s most worrisome to me, actually, is that we’ve entered into a period of journalism where toeing the line and being a good corporate citizen becomes a tremendous asset. The best journalists, though, are by nature troublemakers and often have difficult personalities. Not in the cunning CEO asshole way, but in the charming, iconoclastic, drunk by noon way. But with such scarce number of cushy gigs still available, newspapers and magazines and the like don’t need to(and are not going to) put up with the troublemaker factor.

5) I used to wake up in the morning and think, ‘wow, at least I’m not a poet.’ What hubris! Anyway, I tell myself that the future might not be as dire as Hedges’ prediction. I’m hoping there will always be narrative non-fiction market(which I love to both read and write) and other forms of “serious” foreign/expense account journalism. At least until I retire or get shot.

6) I wonder if we’re heading towards a future where people have jobs teaching journalism, spinning journalists(public relations, marketing etc.) and commenting on journalism(the media-blog-complex)…But no one is actually a journalist. Indeed.

Totally unrelated: The Hastings Report would like to wish a hearty congratulations to Anthony Shadid for winning his second Pulitzer. The man’s reporting and writing is really in another league–reading his work is ample justification of our entire profession.


About michaelhastings

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3 Responses to What do journalists and starving artists have in common?

  1. John Ness says:

    Real journalism will increasingly done in the niches; its just that niche media increasingly doesn’t need to be dry the way it was when we were growing up.

  2. Caitlin Kelly says:

    It’s ironic and depressing that, as we enter an era of astonishing income inequality — i.e. the rich need tweaking and investigating more than ever because they (feel like they) own us — who’s going to do it? I agree that forelock-tugging is likely to become even more the norm and if you really want to learn something substantive about…almost anything…good luck with that. Freelance rates are going back to where they were 20 or 30 years ago, which is great if you’re 25 and perhaps haven’t been around long enough to know these wages are a joke but also wonder why you simply can’t make a living at $1/wd.

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