Journalism is becoming a ‘rarefied practice’ best-suited to ‘the well-off’

Random House
Alexandra Kimball’s personal before-and-after experience with inherited wealth leads her to argue that journalism has become an industry accessible only to the privileged classes. When you can’t afford to take unpaid internships or pay your dues with little salary, you find few open doors, she says.

Poverty doesn’t allow you to develop a linear career trajectory or a coherent professional identity, because when cash is hard to come by, you do whatever job will bring you more of it. But when you apply this short-term logic to a creative field, especially one that requires as much patience and investment and dues-paying as journalism, you come away with nothing.

To be a writer in this market requires not only money, but a concept of “work” that is most easily gained from privilege. It requires a sense of entitlement, the ability to network and self-promote without seeing yourself as an arrogant, schmoozing blowhard. And it requires you to think of working for free—at an internship, say, or on one of those gratis assignments that seem to be everywhere now—as an opportunity rather than an insult or a scam.

This is no longer an industry that rewards working-class values, in other words … It still seems strange to me that people work, unpaid, without a guaranteed job at the end. And I haven’t reconciled myself with the central irony here: that journalism, ostensibly a populist endeavour, is becoming a rarefied practice best suited, both financially and psychologically, to the well-off.

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Earlier: How to tell when unpaid internships are opportunities, when they’re an abuse | Would You Pay Five Grand to Work at Huffpo? (Forbes) | News organizations should rethink unpaid internships | Lawyers seek class action lawsuit over Fox internship programs | Former Harper’s Bazaar intern suing Hearst over unpaid internship

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  • Anonymous

    I don’t know that I disagree that a mind that is as removed from circumstances is oftentimes a good point of departure for good journalism , but I do not think the authors argument holds water, in particular. Were this the case, any other area of inquiry would be similarly in the purview of the well-to-do exclusively. But unlike the fawning attention over say a Maserati, or the fetish one may have over an “all Apple” household, it’s important to recognize that Journalism , like any other human endeavour of inquiry is oftentimes BEST when it is taken up by the poor student or the ambitious younger person or the inquisitive , persistent older person who has had the last of some injustice put to their eye.

    In that respect if the argument were true in other respects, we would be somehow incapable of producing an objective viewpoint and asking inquiring questions, as citizens, in this respect, I think unfortunately the authors viewpoint may be colored by the manufactured split in our society between the 4th estate and the “professionalism” engendered in it, the inquisitiveness of an informed society.

    I mention professionalism because the sad state of present affairs where journalism in most respects died a long time ago , replaced by Snookie sightings, and whatever scandal can be dredged from the bottom of human experience, long since replacing harsh inquiry of presidents, CEO’s and others with malfeasance or incompetence or both in ample supply, this exercise now exists almost exclusively as caricature, a political ideological propaganda exercise where presidents cannot be too friendly to corporations, and corporations cannot be malevolent forces in the world, but it’s entirely possible to be too attentive to the poor, the sick or the weak.

    So , directly counter to the argument made, being a great journalist while possible in any environment is oftentimes a high art to which our nation has long since abandoned any pretense of aspiration, and for which our nation suffered mightily.

  • Anonymous

    Mr-. Sonderman
    What do you think about the assertion posited by Ms. Kimball.

    And how do you think it plays into the meme prevalent in the main stream media over the last several years that those who choose to pursue an education in a creative career should not be surprised that they can not find a job when they complete their education.

    Or the ever-creeping move toward privatization in private education and onerous loan terms that saddle graduates with lifetime debt?