Amidst another day of depressing layoff news at major media outlets, I began to think about whether the “full time reporter/editor” job in itself is in danger. I don’t think it is, but the thought certainly bares consideration. Namely, will more and more media end up looking like me? Will they be part time contributors that have “career” jobs with other companies or a variety of gigs? It’s looking like the answer to that question is yes.
Just today it was announced that the NY Times would fold its City Section. Names of prominent San Francisco Chronicle reporters accepting buyouts began to surface, which basically eliminated most of the paper’s cultural coverage. Rumors abound that Nielsen Business Media may merge Adweek, Brandweek and Mediaweek into one title, or even shut down two of the three publications.
In a Washington Post article titled “In Baltimore, No One Left to Press the Police,” David Simon, founder of popular HBO show, “The Wire,” writes that with the Baltimore Sun' s depleted staff, there is virtually no one investigating serious crimes that take place in the city.
To be sure, contributors are good for many things, but investigative journalism and breaking news are usually not among them. For example, many of the publications I read, including Mashable, MediaPost, Alley Insider and others use contributing writers who also maintain other jobs. Even Advertising Age, it seems, has been adding to its roster of outside contributors. But – these contributors will never be able to take the place of full time reporters. Generally, they don’t break news or get in depth with meticulously sourced stories.
I was speaking to a reporter for a national business publication a few weeks ago, and the topic turned to citizen journalism. We gravitated towards the famous image of US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, as many had hailed that as an act of citizen journalism since the picture first appeared on Twitter. “It’s great that the image got out there so fast,” the reporter said, “but that is just the image. Is that person going to sit in on the National Transportation Safety Board press briefings?” Or on another, but related note, “Is a local resident going to wake up early to go check the public records at the local police precinct?” We both agreed that neither were likely.