Belmont Club

The news about the news

Robert G. Picard, a professor of media economics at Sweden’s Jonkoping University describes why journalist’s wages are falling in a Christian Science Monitor article.

  • “Actually, journalists deserve low pay … journalists simply aren’t creating much value these days.”
  • “Well-paying employment requires that workers possess unique skills, abilities, and knowledge. It also requires that the labor must be non-commoditized. Unfortunately, journalistic labor has become commoditized”
  • “Before professionalism of journalism, many journalists not only wrote the news, but went to the streets to distribute and sell it and few journalists had regular employment in the news and information business. Journalists and social observers debated whether practicing journalism for a news entity was desirable. Even Karl Marx argued that “The first freedom of the press consists in it not being a trade.”
  • “Journalism must innovate and create new means of gathering, processing, and distributing information so it provides content and services that readers, listeners, and viewers cannot receive elsewhere. And these must provide sufficient value so audiences and users are willing to pay a reasonable price.”

Picard describes some of the failed strategies that journalism, in this transitional period, has resorted to in order to “provide sufficient value”. They efforts have been creative, frenzied but ultimately doomed. Despite Picard’s attempts to posit the emergence of a new and sustainable model, does the fact that nobody has found one yet (despite a lot of looking) have any significance for general journalism?


Journalists today are often urged to change practice to embrace crowd sourcing, to search specialty websites, social networks, blogs, and micro-blogs for story ideas, and to embrace in collaborative journalism with their audiences. Although all of these provide useful new ways to find information, access knowledge, and engage with readers, listeners, and viewers, the amount of value that they add and its monetization is highly debatable. The primary reason is that those who are most highly interested in that information and knowledge are able to harvest it themselves using increasingly common tools.

It is just possible that journalism may have to revert to its earlier status as a part-time occupation, that the future of journalism is its forgotten past. Perhaps in the future there will be few or no pure journalists; simply lawyers, doctors, engineers, scientists, businessmen, students, soldiers or any ordinary person with a smart telephone or mobile computing device. But that is not quite correct, if Picard’s logic is right then in the future it is not the case that there will no be journalists, simply millions of them, all getting paid a little something, yet none of them able to extract the monopoly rents of the late 20th century media.

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