I'm not necessarily a fan of Jason Whitlock. Sometimes I agree with him. Sometimes I think he is full of crap. But this offering he wrote on the state of the newspaper industry is an interesting read for all of us in this line of work.
A few points that come out of this column that are worth mentioning:
1. First and foremost, APSE contests are, in fact, a joke. I can say that I have NEVER entered an APSE contest in my 12-year career in sports journalism. Winning awards is not why I got into this field. Next time I write a story or a headline designed to win an award it will be a first.
Journalism is not about us as newspaper people. It is about our readers and the communities we serve. If we are writing stories to try to win contests and feed our own egos, shame on us.
2. Whitlock is RIGHT ON when he says the economy is not the reason we are failing. A bad economy doesn't help, of course, but newspapers are failing because they are stuck in their old ways. As an industry, we lack the courage to try different business models. Most papers are just hanging on for dear life.
Everything that we do, we give away for free. Why buy a newspaper these days? You can get all the content for nothing on the Web. What other industry do you know that gives away its product for free? That has to change if we're going to survive over the long haul.
3. Whitlock says newspaper leadership is "unwilling to dismantle systems put in place to reward butt-kissing climbers." That's probably true everywhere, but dissent isn't prevalent in the modern newsroom. That's unfortunate, indeed, because as journalists we are trained to question everything.
But we've got bills to pay, and everyone is fearful of the next round of layoffs. So, we go along to get along. I don't have all the answers on how to turn things around in this industry. I'm not that smart. No one is. However, I do have some ideas that I think are good. My colleagues have ideas, too. It's just that no one has asked us, and we dare not pitch anything to management, for fear that we'll be seen as troublemakers and cast aside in the next round of job cuts.
This sentence by Whitlock hit me like a ton of bricks. It is so true:
"The newspaper industry is being driven by fear. The market place of ideas has disappeared. There are no jobs. People have mortgages to pay and kids in need of daycare or college. Everyone just tries to avoid conflict and avoid the next round of layoffs.
"Fear and ass-kissing won't save newspapers."
That's something for all of us to think about, whether you are a high-ranking newspaper executive or a beginning reporter.