Monday, December 14, 2009

Journalism Slides Closer to Its New Reality

The pounding, headache inducing drumbeat of Tiger’s tales of infidelity pushed a number of potentially market changing stories to the back page.

Here is one headline from the December 3rd issue of the New York Times that escaped my attention: Some Dallas Editors will Report to Ad Sales.

Whoa…I suspect a fair number of journalists view the idea of taking direction from and being accountable to sales reps as a harbinger of the apocalypse.

It’s understandable. Many newsrooms have historically been shielded from the economic realities of publishing, with the editor and writer occupants rallied around a shared commitment to a higher calling.

The downsizing of journalism during the past two years has landed like a sledgehammer -- producing anger, denials and despair. It’s something I wrote about in November in my well read and critically received “Open Letter to the Unemployed Journalist."

So, I have to ask: Is a closer integration between the newsroom and the advertising sales department a good thing?

At the Dallas Morning News, it is only the sports and entertainment writers who will be affected by this new structure. Plus, editor Bob Mong told the New York Times that they have been instructed to “fight back” if they are told to do anything unethical.

My take is that this is the reality of future news gathering and reporting. Let’s get over the anger and accept that the publishing business model will continue to evolve for newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and online news operations to survive.

The question I pose above is irrelevant. There is simply no room left for a pristine and uncomplicated separation of editorial and advertising operations.


Rebecca said...

I see this as the proverbial slippery slope. While it is true that news organizations have to come up with new revenue models to survive, the idea of someone in the newsroom reporting directly to advertising scares me.

Several months ago I found a story about a new local Web site matching employers with college and high school students, wrote it (with my editor's approval) and it was not printed. Why? I was told the head honchos in the newsroom didn't want to upset the classifieds department by telling people in the community about a new place to look for jobs (the Web site could be used to match employers to job seekers, but that's not its purpose).

Even though no one in the newsroom reported to advertising, a story did not run purely because of the fear of upsetting advertising.

For some reason an intern wrote the same story a few months after I was laid off. Couldn't tell you what happened in between.

José Vítor Malheiros said...

If a journalist agrees to produce copy that will optimize revenue generation instead of being focused in informing his/her readers he/she becomes a salesperson and stops being a journalist - even if the copy can seem similar. Unethical? Clearly. I cannot think of any other classification. The duty of the journalist is to be absolutely independent of pressures and interests (including the internal ones). This is a good way of killing journalism faster.