The turmoil in the journalism business over the past decade-plus has placed a lot of attention on business models, and a lot of attention on the health and fate of the companies and organizations that employ the people who report the news.
Comparatively, we talk very little about the well-being and status of individual journalists. That's a mistake and missed opportunity. When we talk about the loss of journalism due to economic factors or business model turmoil, we're really talking about the loss of employed journalists. These are real people with expertise and knowledge that could still be used to protect democracy. That's particularly pronounced when there are cuts in local journalism, where deep knowledge of a particular community isn't just transferable to another place, even if an individual journalist was able or wanted to uproot their life and family.
Beyond job loss, individual journalists are more likely to have to switch jobs multiple times within the industry as newspaper ownership consolidates and the landscape of local digital media is in a still-early and volatile state.
It's about financial security, for sure, but this dynamic, combined with the polarized and fraught state of our politics and press freedoms, takes a toll on the mental well-being and mindset of journalists.
We have experienced not just a loss in the amount of journalism that's being done. In many cases, the journalism that's left has gotten worse as we've done a poor job helping reporters and editors adjust to depleted resources, an environment of constant change, and a radically different political climate.
Conscientious publishers and others with a stake in the health of journalism business should make some basic commitments to the individual journalist, including:
(1) Transparency. Bring journalists into the loop of revenue and profit-and-loss discussions.
(2) Entrepreneurship. Teach them an entrepreneurial mindset, and the opportunity to use it. This is important not only for the health and growth of your business, but the skill sets that they'll need in their next job and as the industry shifts in part to a legion of solo-operator, self-employed local news businesses.
(3) A living wage. Criminally low pay has long been an elephant in the room for local journalism, exacerbated greatly by a decade of wage stagnation since the 2008 recession. It's not fair or healthy to ask of a workforce under greater stress and required to have more varied skills than...