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.)

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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