Felix Salmon stirred up a big online discussion this week with a post that essentially told budding journalists to not make journalism their career. To me, the last three paragraphs of his story are spot on:
I have every faith that great journalism will continue to appear online, and reach a large and grateful audience. For news consumers, that’s fantastic news. But I have no faith that the individuals creating that great journalism are going to end up getting paid anything near what they deserve — or even that most of them will be able to build a career out of it.
If all you care about is the great journalism, then, well, go out and find great stories to tell, and tell those stories in a compelling manner. You’ll always be able to find somewhere willing to publish them, even if they pay little or nothing for the privilege of doing so.
On the other hand, if you’re more career-oriented, and want a good chance at a well-paid middle-class lifestyle down the road, I don’t really know what to tell you. Except that the chances of getting there, if you enter the journalism profession today, have probably never been lower.
Note that Salmon is NOT saying journalism is dying (despite some people’s misreading). In fact, he sounds quite high on its future. What he is down on is the likelihood that a journalism practitioner will be able to make a decent living on it.
This echoes what I’ve believed for a while now: It’s a great time to do journalism; it’s a bad time to do journalism as your primary means of income. It’s not hard to see how those two statements can co-exist, but if you need an explanation, Salmon’s post lays it out well.
Some people seem upset at Salmon for giving this advice, but I think his analysis is something every budding journalist needs to read. It’s fine if they decide to keep working toward a journalism career after reading it, but they definitely should read it, because it’s about understanding what you are getting into.
Here are a few additional pieces of advice I’d offer to aspiring journalists: (more…)