Media is a business. Has anyone told journalists?

I asked my first Quora question recently and got a lot of wonderfully helpful responses. In the comment thread of one of the responses though, something emerged that I found interesting enough to repost here. 

Owen Thomas, whose Quora bio says he’s the Executive Editor of Venture Beat, wrote (in response to my saying that promoting their work is anathema to many old-school journos):

Anna, I don’t think it’s anathema: It’s simply not their job. Magazine journalists are used to a structured work environment with a smart division of labor. Other people edit, illustrate, design, distribute, and promote their work, leaving them more time to do their job, which is writing.

I responded thusly:


Owen, to me that “not my job” business is just crazy in my opinion. In the business world for example, there are lots of things that might not be a worker’s stated job, but there is an understanding of being a team player and pitching in to do things that aren’t explicitly one’s job. What’s more, that kind of behavior is usually looked upon very kindly by management and maybe this is a person they will now consider for special projects or a promotion down the road. That’s why ambitious, hard-working people regularly go above and beyond their job descriptions. They do it for its own reward of knowing they contributed more to the business’ success and they also do it to be professionally and financially rewarded down the road.

But you know, I think I’ve hit upon something here in responding to your comment. You think nothing of stating that journalists/writers are just not willing to go beyond their job description. You don’t think it’s lazy or unambitious. You think it’s perfectly normal. Well, I don’t. Imagine if you told the general public (non-journos) this. Go ahead and tell this to people who are all being asked to do more with less in all of their industries. Tell them that writers simply can’t be bothered with that. No, no, that’s too much for them. They’re delicate geniuses whose work will suffer if they have to do extra things outside of their job descriptions. This kind of thing is why many people (perhaps rightly) think of journalism as a privileged, coddled profession. And I’m sure that’s the way many journalists would like to keep it. But not me. What’s more, the changing media landscape demands a higher degree of efficiency and yes, of doing more than one’s stated job description. 

Something else occurs to me. I started out by giving the example of people in business. Well, media is a business just like any other, but for some reasons journalists seem to have been shielded from this “unpleasant” reality for a long time now. This has to end. I firmly believe that it’s possible to be creative and put out good work AND understand how it is that you receive a paycheck for it.

What do you think?

By the way, I’m not implying that using social networks to promote one’s work or any of the other tasks of digital journalism are enough to keep the lights on at one’s publication. But it sure can’t hurt.





  1. Anonymous January 9, 2011

    The “not my job” line of reasoning is no longer acceptable or valid given the current economic climate. Especially when it comes to the media, with budgets running tighter, companies making tough personnel cuts, those of us who are lucky enough to have jobs have to take on a mentality of doing whatever it takes to build a better product, draw in more readers which will subsequently bring in more revenue.

  2. Anna Tarkov January 9, 2011

    Matt, you give me hope :) If you and I are the new breed, then maybe this “I don’t have time” thinking will eventually turn around.

  3. Anonymous January 9, 2011

    Some journalists are sceptics, some are cynics, how many are pragmatists? Take a long view and it wasn’t always so. The enduring newspaper groups in the UK (where I’m based) may well have started in the 1800s or early 1900s with some kind of belief – whether religious dissenter families setting up papers, or press barons with a political axe to grind. But they married ideas with making money. The modern counterpart, I guess, is the wealth of internet start-ups that have sprung up around the world, either hyperlocal sites or web outfits looking to tap into citizen journalism, video and photography. They’re all chasing revenues and profits… and small teams don’t have the luxury of leaving commercial questions to someone else.

    Bart Brouwers wrote a good piece last December – sadly hidden behind the paywall of the INMA research group, so I can’t offer a link. Bart runs the hyperlocal projects of Telegraaf Media Group in Holland and wrote:

    “Journalists should… be open, communicate, mutualise with your audience. Collaborate even with your competitors, get personal and social, always publish real time (knowing you can’t be wrong for long). Don’t act special, but be involved, tap your audience, and curate what it brings you. Act entrepreneurial.”

    Bart summed up the old-fashioned, but remarkably persistent breed of journalist as someone who, among other things:

    “Doesn’t think about the commercial part of the business.
    Hates the non-editorial parts of his company for complicating his job, as he hates everything digital, systematised, or automated. Cherishes the company castle from which he can perform his important job without being disturbed by strangers from outside.”

    And yes, Bart did deliberately say “he”. Interesting how common the experience can be across international borders, whether in the UK, continental Europe or the US.

    To my mind, having commercial and editorial nous does not mean that integrity evaporates in the hotblooded pursuit of cash. Rather, integrity is all the more essential. Be transparent. Be accountable. Be up front with readers and commercial partners. It’s hard, but not impossible.

    That’s a very long-winded way of saying Anna, you’re right.

  4. Anna Tarkov January 10, 2011

    Paul, thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. It is indeed a problem everywhere, on this side of the pond and on your side as well. I’m just thrilled that we’re all having these conversations and I never hear younger (or the more enlightened :-)) journalists talk about doing things the “old” way. So I’m really, really, REALLY hoping that this shift is going to happen eventually in a big way.

Comments are Disabled