Friday, June 12, 2009


Salary data from the annual newspaper compensation study done by the Inland Press Association underscores the points I made in a lecture at Oxford University recently on why journalists deserve low pay.

According to the salary study, average newspaper wages in the U.S. increased 2.1% between 2008 and 2009, but that result was skewed because hefty increases went to producers of interactive (online) content and editorial personnel involved in new business development. Journalists on the average received no or marginal increases depending upon their category.

My lecture, which was carried in a significantly reduced form in the Christian Science Monitor , and redistributed by multiple online sites and blogs, produced shock, anger, and invective by many journalists who missed its point. The text of the full lecture can be found at the website:

Journalists today create very little economic value and are having a difficult time getting people to pay for the social value they create. The fact that newspapers are rewarding those who help create new businesses and revenue streams far above traditional journalists accentuates this point.

I admit that the title of my speech was deliberately provocative. It was meant as a wakeup call from a former journalist who loves the news industry. The reality is that no one deserves either high or low pay. The level of pay is EARNED. Journalists deserve pay based on the economic value they create (evidenced by what the public is willing to pay for news) or on the willingness of the public to support social purposes contributing funds to foundations or non-profit news operations.

In today’s world—in which the mass audience for newspapers and its business model are disappearing—continuing to provide the same types of coverage and content in the past will not create economic value and earn good pay. I do not believe that Internet news aggregators, community journalism, and blogging will ever replace the functions of good journalism and it will not replace the functions of most newspapers in the short to mid-term. There is hope for journalism.

If journalists want to promote good journalism and value creation that makes them earn more pay, they will have to take more responsibility for coverage decisions and content choices so that journalism becomes more valuable. Journalists have shown unusual willingness to leave those decisions to publishers and editors who have stopped acting like journalists. But it need not be that way.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

May 20th Show recap

May 20th, featured our largest audience to date and the most interesting show to boot. After losing the traditional opening game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, Alex Koll discussed a variety of topics, including what song his father might sing if he had Alzheimer's (working title: "I'm Somebody's Dad"). Sean Keane followed with ten minutes, primarily about the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia and why people hate the dollar coin.

Special guest Eric Andre, visiting from LA, then performed fifteen minutes of energetic, crowd-pleasing standup. His mom was in attendance, so it was especially great that he killed it. Bucky Sinister - totally anchoring these shows every week - did his usual "rambly, ranty storytelling" to much acclaim. If you are interested in learning about cocaine, 80's gangs, door-to-door atheism recruitment, or even why Jared Leto gets his ass kicked so badly in every movie he's in, just listen to Bucky.

We then premiered the first three episodes of Elevator to Space, a new web series starring Alex, Sean, Chris, and Louis Katz. Special guest #2 Nato Green then came out for a segment called "Ask a Cuban", where he queried Chris Garcia on various Cuban issues, including racism, class issues, and why Cuban slang is so damn weird.

The show ended with an improvised talk show from our final special guests, NYC comic Hari Kondabolu and his brother Ashok. The Kondabolu brothers discussed the (media-created) phenomenon of blipsters, and Ashok openly speculated about how his life would improve if Hari had Aziz Ansari's career. I (Sean Keane) returned to discuss my interview with Gallagher, and Alex Koll also returned to chat about travel. Finally, the brothers showed a terrifying movie trailer, and The Business was done for the night.


The question of whether we are witnessing the end of journalism is perhaps the most common topic at contemporary gatherings of journalists and journalism scholars. Although hushed and apprehensive conversations about it have taken place in recent years, today’s discussions are open and filled with alarm and fear.

Many of the voices and opinions, however, misunderstand the nature of journalism. It is not business model; it is not a job; it is not a company; it is not an industry; it is not a form of media; it is not a distribution platform.

Instead, journalism is an activity. It is a body of practices by which information and knowledge is gathered, processed, and conveyed. The practices are influenced by the form of media and distribution platform, of course, as well as by financial arrangements that support the journalism. But one should not equate the two.

The pessimistic view of the future of journalism is based in a conceptualization of journalism as static, with enduring processes, unchanging practices, and permanent firms and distribution mechanisms. In reality, however, it has constantly evolved to fit the parameters and constraints of media, companies, and distribution platforms.

In its first centuries journalism was practiced by printers, part-time writers, political figures, and educated persons who acted as correspondents—not by professional journalists as we know them today. In the nineteenth century the pyramid form of journalism story construction developed so stories could be cut to meet telegraph limits and production personnel could easily cut the length of stories after reporters and editors left their newspaper buildings. Professionalism in the early 20th century emerged with the regularization of journalistic employment and professional journalistic best practices developed. The appearance of radio news brought with it new processes and practices, including “rip and read” from the news agencies teletypes and personal commentary. TV news brought a heavy reliance on short, visual news and 24hour cable channels created practices emphasizing flow-of-events news and heavy repetition.

Journalistic processes and practices have thus never remained fixed, but journalism has endured by changing to meet the requirements of the particular forms in which it has been conveyed and by adjusting to resources provided by the business arrangements surrounding them.

Journalism may not be what it was a decade ago—or in some earlier supposedly golden age—but that does not mean its demise is near. Companies and media may disappear or be replaced by others, but journalism will adapt and continue.

It will adapt not because it is wedded to a particular medium or because it provides employment and profits, but because its functions are significant for society. The question facing us today is not whether journalism is at its end, but what manifestation it will take next. The challenges facing us are to find mechanisms to finance journalistic activity and to support effective platforms and distribution mechanisms through which its information can be conveyed.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Business: June 3rd

San Francisco can't get enough of the underground comedy sensation, "The Business", and neither can our fabulous guest stars. Fresh off a killer performance at the SF Punch Line showcase, New York City's (and Seattle's) Andy Haynes joins us this Wednesday, along with local legend Brent Weinbach (Comedians of Comedy Tour, Andy Kaufman Award).

To paraphrase Wooderson, that's what I love about The Business shows - they keep getting better, and the admission price just stays the same (Five dollars).