CSM op-ed: Why Journalists Deserve Low Pay

27 05 2009

Christian Science Monitor, now exclusively digital, offers this from Robert G. Picard, professor of media economics at Sweden’s Jonkoping University and a visiting fellow at the Reuters Institute at Oxford University:

… Wages are compensation for value creation. And journalists simply aren’t creating much value these days.

Until they come to grips with that issue, no amount of blogging, twittering, or micropayments is going to solve their failing business models.

Of course, technological advances and the multitude of new sources of information play a role in the devaluing of  journalists, he says, but they’re not insurmountable problems.

If value is to be created, journalists cannot continue to report merely in the traditional ways or merely re-report the news that has appeared elsewhere. They must add something novel that creates value. They will have to start providing information and knowledge that is not readily available elsewhere, in forms that are not available elsewhere, or in forms that are more useable by and relevant to their audiences.

One cannot expect newspaper readers to pay for page after page of stories from news agencies that were available online yesterday and are in a thousand other papers today. Providing a food section that pales by comparison to the content of food magazines or television cooking shows is not likely to create much value for readers. Neither are scores of disjointed, undigested short news stories about events in far off places. …

Finding the right means to create and protect value will require collaboration throughout news enterprises. It is not something that journalists can leave to management. …

The demise of the news business can be halted, but only if journalists commit to creating value for consumers and become more involved in setting the course of their companies.

Unfortunately, Picard’s article stops short of envisioning the new value-adding model. But his call for collaboration between journalists and management is important. There are many great journalistic minds working feverishly on this new model, sometimes in collaboration with academics. But I sense precious little collaboration between news company managers and their worker bees. Witness the sad lack of direction in the Tucson Citizen’s leftover Web site.

[hat tip to David Sheets]

UPDATE 6.1.2009: Lee Enterprises, owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, seems to agree that journalists deserve low pay, seeking a 23 percent (!) cut from the Newspaper guild.