A couple of weeks ago, Kip Esquire posted a New Years Day update explaining that he was changing careers. He’s made up his mind do something entrepreneurial rather than work for someone else, but,
I would entertain one exception: namely this blog. Punditry and commentary. If anyone out there has any interest in hiring me as a paid occupational journalist or commentator, then I would consider that — but nothing else.
I didn’t say anything about it at the time, but the more I think about it, the more I think Kip doesn’t have a chance. It’s not because of any shortcomings on his part; nobody else has a chance either. Despite my dislike for blogger triumphalism, I think the long historic view of newspapers will be that they sprang into existence with the invention of the printing press, which made it affordable for everyone to be a reader, and then vanished with the invention of the World Wide Web, which made it affordable for everyone to be a publisher.
Many news stories are little more than some reporter summarizing what he or she has been told by one source and then getting a response from the opposition to provide some balance. With the explosive growth of the web, however, interested readers can skip the reporter’s story entirely and visit both sides’ web sites themselves. They can even do their own background research using Wikipedia and a search engine.
There will still be room for good old-fashioned shoeleather reporting at its most fundamental, interviewing participants and eyewitnesses and then writing the story, but I can’t see why it would have to be done in the context of a traditional newspaper, not even in one of its online incarnations. Already, nearly every other component of the traditional newspaper has been or will be replaced by something on the web:
- Weather: Available from several sources, including direct from the National Weather Service. Current measurements, forecasts, and even radar and satellite imagery are all available in near-real-time on your computer’s desktop.
- Movie listings: Available from several sources, including direct from the movie theaters.
- Television listings: Available from several sources, including direct from the television stations. If you miss a show anyway, you can probably download it.
- Financial data: Available in vast steaming piles all over the web.
- Classified ads: The lifeblood of newspapers, and almost completely replaced by things like Craigslist and Ebay.
- Sports: Information is available everywhere, including directly from the leagues and teams, and you can re-watch highlights or entire games over the Internet. I’m sure they’re working on streaming live games.
- Commentary, editorials, opinions: 50 million bloggers.
The most important thing that newspapers still provide is editorial control, and even that is slipping away from them.
When I used to read the print edition of the Chicago Tribune, the appearance of a story in the paper told me two things: (1) The Tribune‘s editors believed the story was accurate, and (2) the Tribune‘s editors believed the story was worth my time to read.
(Anyone who doesn’t think those are important services should try clicking the Next Blog link on Blogger a few times and reading stuff at random. Actually, does anybody remember back when Technorati and the big blogging hosts had “random blog” links on their home page? There’s a reason those have gone away.)
Nowadays, however, I get most of my news by reading blogs that cover subjects I’m interested in and following the links to the stories in the primary media. In other words, I have replaced the Tribune‘s editors with a bunch of bloggers whose news decisions are more to my liking.
As a consequence, I am no longer limited to the contents of one newspaper but can pick and choose article from many papers all over the country. Under such a system, it’s difficult to imagine a role for newpapers themselves. We can replace the traditional editorial function with some combination of news aggregators, bloggers, social network voting systems, and search engines. All we need are the reporters writing the stories and the bloggers who link to them.
This brings me, at long last, to my point: If you or Kip or anyone else wants to be a reporter, just get out there and do it. Interview someone, take a picture, write a story about it, and publish it on your blog.
If you want something a bit more organized, or a bit less lonely, join a community publication like Chicago’s Chi-Town Daily News. With no print edition and absolutely no non-local reporting (not even the suburbs), a paper like the Daily News is essentially a city news bureau, pumping out pure news stories without doing much else that newspapers usually do. It’s likely to be around a lot longer for that reason.
It may not earn you much money, but neither will choosing journalism as a career these days.