‘Newspapers killed newspapers,’ says reporter who quit the business

Sticky Valentines | Slate
Allyson Bird autopsies the business she left: “I don’t think the Internet killed newspapers,” she writes. “Newspapers killed newspapers.”

The corporate folks who manage newspapers tried to comply with the whims of a thankless audience with a microscopic attention span. And newspaper staffers tried to comply with the demands of a thankless establishment that often didn’t even read their work. Everyone lost.

Now a writer for a hospital’s fundraising department, Bird remembers the “adrenaline rush” of breaking news but doesn’t miss the exhaustion:

You get called out of a sound sleep to drive out to a crime scene and try to talk with surviving relatives. You wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat, realizing you’ve misspelled a city councilman’s name. You spend nights and weekends chipping away at the enterprise stories that you never have time to write on the clock.

Oh, and the crummy pay: “I quit my newspaper job at 28, making less money than earned when I was 22.”

Matt Yglesias argues that the journalism business has never been better — for readers. “[A]ny individual journalist working today can produce much more than our predecessors could in 1978,” he writes.

To the extent that the industry is suffering, it’s suffering from a crisis of productivity.

For people trying to make a living in journalism, the problems are real enough. But from a social viewpoint, these are excellent problems to have.

Related: How the Boston Phoenix Kept Its Readers But Lost Its Advertisers (PBS MediaShift) | Betting on Punditry (Branch)

Previously: Journalists land at Cisco, other brands as ‘corporate reporters’ | Reporter who created ‘We Are Journalists’ Tumblr takes PR job | Why journalists make the best PR pros | Why journalists don’t always make the best PR pros

Correction: This post misspelled Bird’s last name in one instance.

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  • Fran Fried

    I’d argue that Matt Yglesias is the one with the blinkered outlook, as he put it. He’s obviously not one of the thousands of talented and passionate (ex-)journalists who lost their livelihoods the last five years (or are looking to get out) — at least as much because of corporate demands for ridiculous profit margins as because of the Web. And he seems to be one of the shrinking few who can make a decent living doing it.

    Of COURSE journalists can produce more stories than they did 35 years ago … but much of it is because they HAVE to — they’re forced to do double and even triple the workload now because of attrition and layoffs. And, as just about any journalist at a local paper can tell you, when you’re forced to write more and faster, quality suffers. And combine that with more stories that are getting by them that wouldn’t have in the past, and less space in which to tell sometimes-complex stories. Quantity=Quality?

    So yeah, sure, the landscape is much better for readers than it’s ever been — but sure as hell not for the producers. After reading this, I would say the bubble inside the Beltway isn’t just for politicians.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=656715835 Andrew Beaujon

    Thanks so much. Fixed it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/malloman Shawn Rourk

    You misspelled her name in the third graph. It’s Bird, not Byrd.