Why journalism sucks

Not all journalism sucks. But a lot of it does, and sometimes people get frothy about it. These people are in desperate need of an economics lesson.

Allow me to explain.

I do a bit of local journalism for “fun money.” I cover a few municipal meetings each month. If you are not familiar with local politics let me assure you it is every bit as vicious as what goes on inside the Washington Beltway. Maybe more so, since the people you’re trashing are your neighbors. Residents often complain about the “free press” (not just the local news outlets but the larger papers as well), bemoaning the lack of hardcore investigative journalism. For these folks hardcore investigative journalism is defined as sifting through every last councilperson’s emails and probably tapping their phones for good measure.

In response I would make two points:

  1. Many of these aggrieved residents seem to be conspiracy theorists with too much time on their hands.
  2. I don’t get PAID to do hardcore investigative journalism.

Let’s run the numbers.

I’m paid $45 per meeting. Most meetings are 2-3 hours long, not including travel time. It takes another hour or so to write and revise the story (most stories clock in around 500 words). When it’s all said and done I’m averaging about $10 an hour. And that’s assuming things run smoothly. Sometimes these meetings can ramble on for 4 hours or more if residents feel like parsing the minutiae of deer culling, stoplight installation, etc. For a point of comparison, consider that when I temped for a utility warranty company I made $12 an hour doing unskilled office support work.

Journalism is not charity work. It is economic activity. To be a bit more crass about it: pay bananas and you get monkeys. I provide journalistic output in proportion to my wage rate. This is the economic reality of journalism, local and otherwise.


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