CRYSTAL BALL – some thoughts on the future of journalism

I floated this topic on my Facebook page earlier today. It got a number of responses, some agreeing, some contrary. I think it’s worth putting up here as my take on the way things are going with The 4th Estate and those who try to scrape a living writing for it. I really hope I’m wrong.

DEATH OF J 

“In less than 10 years there will be only 2 types of journalist. Bloggers who will write for free or freebies; Staffers, whose duties will be to find bloggers. Those bloggers who can generate loads of ‘likes’ will get the junkets, the prestige trips; newbie bloggers, recent journalism graduates or those who can’t ‘hike the likes’ will be condemned to writing about bottling lines, dehydrated soups and The Tone Deaf Baked Bean Salesman of the Year Award. These guys will receive no remuneration other than the accreditation and (maybe) the return fare.

Subbing, along with tense, syntax and other embellishments will be a thing of the past.”

 

A Facebook friend, Oisin Davis of Damson Diner, countered with: “If that is going to be the case, then the bloggers will need to demand proper fees for writing and the staff writers will have to get more clever about where they get their next pieces from. I remember days prior to email and blogs when I would promote music shows. At the end of each gig, I would fax out a press release to a load of staffers that I knew were always looking for stories. In each one, I’d wax lyrical about how amazing the gig was, how it sold out and how wild the audience were etc. 9 out of 10 times the writer would simply regurgitate, word for word what I had written. I’d always get a kick out of that, knowing darn well that they were never in attendance themselves. I also remember thinking how disingenuous that was and how that surely could not go on forever. Well a lot of staffers don’t have it so easy any more and we can thank bloggers, in some part anyway, for that.”

 

I can see where he is coming from. There is still a deal of sloppy journalism about, with much cutting-and-pasting of press releases and some poor writing. This has been brought about in parts by the changing in staffing of newspapers and magazines. For example, years ago newspapers used to staff for the peaks. The logic was: “If, simultaneously, we have a factory fire in Glasnevin, a flood in Templeogue, a lottery winner in the Liberties and a mad axeman running amok in Ballsbridge, how many journalists and photographers do we need to cover these stories?” Nowadays it’s “How quickly can one guy and his digital Nikon compact get round” or “Hang about, we’ll get the skinny on the web”. The same publications now staff for the troughs.

 

This was my riposte: “Oisin, there is no such thing as a ‘proper fee’ any more. Rates are shrinking year on year. It is now virtually impossible for anyone to make a full-time living as a freelance journalist and the few I know who do are knocking themselves into the ground. Freelancers are soft targets too, when the time for editorial budget cuts comes round.

In the press, more and more news comes via agencies; more and more news and features are syndicated. It’s hard enough to earn a crust, even without bloggers getting in on the act.

Bloggers are a different kettle of fish. For them writing is a hobby or, at best, a secondary income. There are no qualifications for blogging other than the ability to put up a WordPress page. There is no requirement to become an expert in your desired specialisation and no need to be able to write to deadlines. All you need to blog is an opinion and a keyboard. After that we are in ‘Stream of Consciousness Land’.

I would go as far as saying that when it comes to imparting information in an interesting manner bloggers (with a few, very few, honourable exceptions) are utterly inept.

Unfortunately, a couple of years ago, the PR industry (I won’t grace it with the term ‘profession’) who also have pretty low standards, suddenly discovered bloggers. More and more of them now appear at every bunfight. For the PR mob it’s probably enough to see ‘Yesterday I went to the Clonagloomy bubblegum yoghurt launch; I tasted some and it was lovely” on a dozen blogs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen on a blog a proper critique of a product and of course there won’t be because the invitations will cease and the bloggers know it. And, in their wake, will come more bloggers, ready and willing to write for a free trip and to see their names in print.”