Newspapers exist to make their owners money. Journalism exists (in its noblest form) to serve a public purpose. Journalists are journalists for a myriad of reasons; public service, nosiness, a desire to do good, a love of the printed product, a need to be part of a community, to tell stories, and sometimes but not often, purely and simply to make a living.
Once, these three things existed in harmony. Newspapers made money, to pay journalists, who created journalism. Now, though, they’re not so in sync.
Making money requires changes that don’t sustain journalism or fulfil journalists. And if you are a journalist earning a wage from a company whose primary concern is to make money, those changes can create a bit of an identity crisis. What are we for. exactly?
While those three goals existed in harmony, it was easy to forget that newspaper owners weren’t altruistic, and that while creating great journalism helped to sell papers it wasn’t the reasons those owners/shareholders got into the business.
But these days you can’t pretend that your employer’s goals are the same as yours. Which leaves this question: what do they pay us for? What do they want?
To sell more papers? To sell more advertising? To maximise profits, whatever it takes?
That sounds obvious, but each of those goals requires different things from us as journalists.
Selling more papers requires a radical rethink of this whole interweb business. Selling more advertising (on the web) requires innovative approaches, open mindedness, and an improvement in the quality of content. Maximising profits means higher work ratios with less thought to quality. (Yes, I know that’s all an oversimplification, this whole post is an oversimplification…).
None of that chimes very well with what I came into journalism for. But the scales are well and truly fallen away. Our reasons for doing our jobs are not the reasons our employers provide them.
So we should stop hoping the big groups will save newspapers, merged or consolidated or whatever.
They might save them as a business. But the saving will be on their terms, and for the most part their terms are not, and have never been, our terms. Our goals sat on the same train for a while, but those days are gone. Don’t like that? Start thinking of an alternative.