Why Journalism is “Dying”

While the above picture looks innocuous enough, right? LA Weekly, one of the biggest newspapers in Los Angeles, is looking for new writers. All passionate Angelenos (which is the correct spelling for those of us native to Los Angeles, by the way) should apply, right? Not so fast.

The reason that LA Weekly is looking for new writers is a cause for concern about the direction that journalism seems to be heading. I’ve seen a lot of writers posting in the last few months about different websites and publications asking them to write for free. It seems that LA Weekly has decided to follow suit.

Instead of sticking with a team of writers that have allowed LA Weekly to be nominated for 21 LA Press Club awards, the new owner of the publication instead has opted to field unpaid “contributors” to fills its pages every week. Keyword: unpaid. Said new owner, Steve Mehr, told the LA Times that the switch to using these “contributors” was to combat the problem of “superficial coverage.” But, as Katie Bain pointed out later on in her thread, if your paid writers were being “superficial,” how can you possibly expect unpaid writers to be less superficial? While this seems to be quite preposterous, it is a harrowing trend of not valuing writers that is rampant throughout the world of journalism in 2017.

SB Nation, quite possibly the biggest network of sports sites, came under fire back in August for exploiting its writers with low pay for tremendous amounts of work.

Teen Vogue was condemned on Twitter in June for soliciting articles from writers, causing them to spend ample time writing said articles, only to back out before running the article or going dark when pay was discussed.

Ebony faced a similar backlash in April when several of its writers spoke out about egregiously late payments.

The list goes on and on.

There has been much discussion these days about the relevance of true journalism in today’s society. Some say that digital is killing print media. Some say that video is killing words. Some say that people simple get their news in short bites from Twitter so journalism isn’t needed as much anymore.

While some of those statements might be true, the biggest contributing factor to the so-called death of journalism is far and away the issue of writers not being given the proper compensation and recognition they deserve.

Writing is an art. It’s no different from what a painter or an illustrator does. My wife, who’s currently a semester away from graduating with a degree in art, was telling me about a conversation she had with one of her professors. Her professor was saying artists can charge no less than $25/hour right out of school for a commission. Sure, some people wouldn’t want to pay that, but the fact is that someone who knows about art would not balk at that figure. The same can’t be said for a writer coming out of school.

To clarify, I’m not saying that a writer should charge $25/hour because an artist can. There’s a lot more that goes into art (materials, time, etc.), but comparatively, some balk when a writer expects pay of any kind out of school. Many companies want writers to do work for free to “prove their worth,” so to speak. I can see getting paid less up front before becoming full-time, or something along those lines. No pay whatsoever, though, is ridiculous.

Journalism likely could die someday. It it does, however, it won’t be because people stop wanting to read our work. It’ll be because people stop paying us our worth.

What we do as writers matters. It’s time that everyone realize that.

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