Gladwell: Newspapers are ‘dreary, depressed places’

Yale Daily News | Pando Daily
Malcolm Gladwell, who parlayed a newspaper job into a life of bestselling authordom and celebrity thought-leadership, told students at Yale that they shouldn’t try to make a mark on the world via newspapers.

When asked to dispense advice for budding journalists, Gladwell was hesitant to direct them toward newspapers. Although he said his experiences at the Washington Post were fulfilling, he said positions at newspapers are now not often fruitful mostly because newspapers are less profitable than they once were. He suggested online media, even if unpaid, as a good starting point for aspiring journalists.

“Newspapers are kind of dreary, depressed places,” he said. “I would go the penniless Web route to get practice. You can enter the mainstream so much quicker there.”

Hamish McKenzie is not bouncing off Gladwell’s words, but he might as well be when he writes, “The idea that ‘the Internet’ will defeat a clueless ‘big media’ at its own game is romantic at best, naive at least, and actually, in a way, kind of cute.”

Yes, the digital disruption of the media industry has been massive and real. It pried open some cracks in which some excellent excellent new media properties have been able to thrive – Slate, Salon, The Awl, just to name a few. New platforms have emerged to challenge big media’s hegemony, but as they mature and as big media catches up, those platforms – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Spotify – are proving fertile territory for the major media brands.

Of course, Gladwell’s memories of working at the Post haven’t stood up well to scrutiny. In 2008, Jack Shafer mercilessly debunked a series of Gladwell stories about that part of his career, including claims that he wasn’t qualified for the job, that he’d inserted false information into stories for laughs and that he’d engaged in a contest with a fellow reporter to insert trite phrases into articles. Those Gladwell tales were broadcast on “This American Life.” (Hat tip to Dan Nguyen for reminding me of this article.)

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  • Reykjavik

    “Slate, Salon, The Awl” — interesting examples to cite, as they all either lose money or barely break even (Slate is the most mysterious because Jacob Weisberg continues to receive accolades even though he makes no money for his corporate owners). I don’t disagree with Gladwell’s assessment and would go further to say that newspapers also are managed by less-than-sparkling talent. With few exceptions, if you want to work with the best and brightest, head to pure play digital operations unassociated with print.

  • Chuck Strouse

    Dreary and depressing my ass,,,..check out this Miami New Times video

  • Anonymous

    The media gets successful because of free labor but not laborers.   Of course some people from bottom of pyramid get to the top but only a few.    The larger the base of pyramid, the less for the workers and more for the tip of pyramid.   Internet expands the base and it enhances the flow to the top of pyramid.

  • Dan Nguyen

    While I don’t think that Gladwell’s overall point is off-the-mark — the unrelenting cutbacks at newspapers have made them dreary places — I don’t think that automatically makes his advice — go work at a non-paying startup — valid, even if you are a trust fund baby. However, I wouldn’t put much money behind McKenzie’s optimism either.
    Also, I think it’s relevant to remember that Gladwell admitted to making up stories while during his time at the Washington Post. Or, he made up making up stories at the WaPo

  • David McRaney

    This is one of those wonderful arguments in which both sides are probably wrong.