Trouble with democracy: It doesn’t pay well

If there’s anything I write about or comment on that is sure to draw a hot and negative response, it’s the insistence that journalists start to get in tune with their true market value. It’s not that I don’t see a huge social value to the work they do. I credit journalists with keeping our democracy alive. But they’ve never been paid by democracy; they get paid by a business model.

My point is twofold:

  1. Journalists have always been part of someone else’s business model. But it’s generally only in times like this, when the business models are under fire, that journalists are compelled to recognize it.
  2. While traditional media models are under siege, journalists themselves are becoming part of the solution — developing new models and new approaches to paying the true cost for news. (For example, check out Spot.us and MedCityNews.)

Today’s e-mail brought an item from one of my favorite blogs, Seth Godin’s Blog. He usually has something insightful to say about the way the world works. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen his blog address the media world directly.

His message (you should read it yourself; it’s short) is simply this: Journalists can be measured for the interest their stories generate — as evidenced by a Washington Post columnist who was let go because his blog posts didn’t generate enough traffic. In every other industry, people’s performance is measured against specific objectives.

It’s happening now with journalists — bringing them into intimate business contact for whatever business model employs them.

Coming face to face with reality can be a painful experience, but in the working world there is really nothing more important.

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