Bailout Contagion: Rescue Print Media

Print media should ride the fumes of the big three’s inevitable bailout and ask for its own.

The solution to the ongoing woes of writers, editors and photographers everywhere began to coalesce last week as I watched congressional hearings with the CEOs of America’s failing automobile giants. Simultaneously, news flew across Twitter that the Rocky Mountain News is up for sale. On a local media listserve I follow, freelancers for the Rocky and other failing publications sought out advice from veterans who’ve weathered recession before. Today, the Tribune Co. is “Flirting with Bankruptcy” says the NYT.

Are we print journalists any different than the auto workers, or even Wall Street? Like the auto industry, we stuck to an eco-unfriendly model far too long and were short-sighted and late in adopting new technology. Like the financial analysts, we rely on complex yet bullish financing to make ends meet. If any part of the shabby structure fails–like classified ads giving way to Craig’s List–the whole publication is in trouble.

We’re bleeding jobs, too. Journalists have faced job cuts for years as magazines and newspapers have culled their ranks and even outsourced jobs to India. Are we missing any of the bailout credentials? Wait–a free press is an essential component of any democracy. That gives us the ideological and cultural cred we were missing to join in bailout contagion.

Doesn’t that make us too big to fail?

5 thoughts on “Bailout Contagion: Rescue Print Media

  1. I agree with you that print media is “worth saving,” but a bailout is not the answer. Leadership needs to start enacting fresh ideas/new ways of doing business because the old business model has failed and will continue to fail. Simply pumping more money into the industry is nothing more than short-term relief prolonging its collapse. It needs to seriously revamp the way it does business, and honestly, in the long run, it may be better off hitting rock bottom and completely reorganizing.

  2. Thanks Craig. My tongue was definitely in my cheek when I suggested a bailout for the media. I agree that it’s overdue for an overhaul. Unfortunately, if any of us really knew how to do it, we would’ve done it by now. It seems like baby steps are the rule and full revamps are the exception–I guess we’re not in a nimble business.

  3. Good discussion point! ! agree with Craig. We need the opposite of a bailout. We need to get rid of the leadership that looks at profit over purpose, publishers that value news over noise and information over entertainment.

    We don’t need more money – the problem with newspapers is that they’re being run by people who think they’re producing widgets. Management is treating the news like a money machine, journalism is secondary. Need to flip that equation for it to add up correctly.

    The pairing of corporate profit goals with news objectives is a total mismatch. It’s a lose-lose situation. The corporate boss is bound not to meet his profit goal, and the newspaper is stripped of its worth until it’s a shell of its former self and crumbles. It’s inevitable, a doomed relationship.

    We need publishers who are publishers. Publishers who deeply care about the survival of newspapers, either print and/or online, strive for the highest quality “product” for the customer, and recognize and honor the responsibility of their role as the watchdog and safeguard of democracy.

  4. If I may, the other problem is that content producers (writers and poets especially) give away their content practically for free just to get a byline that may only lead them to a really low paying job with no benefits.( Let’s not even “go there” about the strengthening trend of unpaid internships for those with work experience.)

    Employers, accordingly, give out projects to the lowest bidder — probably someone who has an alternate source of income or youth on her/his side.

    Plumbers don’t plumb for free. Neither do electricians, hairdressers or the phone company for that matter.

    Is it the chicken or the egg?

    If we all would gather some more self-esteem and TRY, whenever possible, to negotiate better and even refuse to work for free, perhaps we’d be earning more and be treated better by those who need us. Short-term pain for long-term gain…

  5. Agreeing with Sitting Pretty and elaborating.

    With the advent of the bid-for-services sites like guru.com and iFreelance.com, there are other forces coming into play. This is going to sound harsh, but the India contingency and the stay-at-home dabbler (alongside the newbie looking for a byline) are willing to sell their work for a song. While it’s inarguable that the colloquialism and overall quality of the work differs greatly than that by seasoned copywriting and journalism professionals, we’re now “competing” with the lowest common denominator.

    2008 was a year of tough conversations with prospective clients who whispered, “Wow. THAT much for THAT? But I can get it from (insert bidding site/name of recent college grad here) for less.” I say god speed and good luck.

    To be completely crass about it, I think of every potential assignment as a round of cosmetic surgery for my client. If it were YOUR body (your BRAND), would you really want the discount boob job or face lift?

    If your work is the real deal, spend some time this holiday season thanking your roster of clients and asking for the gift of referrals. There’s not going to be any shortage of those who will work for less, but we can reinforce and substantiate why we cost more.

    Erika

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