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Feb 19 / King Kaufman

Aspiring writers have to keep up with the evolution of the business

If you’re an aspiring sportswriter, as many in the B/R Writer Program are, it’s important to know about writing and the various related skills.

But it’s also smart to learn about the rapidly changing industry you’re trying to break into. If that’s a new subject for you, I recommend this blog post by NYU journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen as an introduction.

In the post, headlined “Some shifts in power visible in journalism today,” Rosen reviews five power shifts in the industry that “continue to alter what is possible for journalists.” Here they are in brief, but it’s absolutely worth reading the whole 1,300-word piece:

Writers ascendant over publishers: Relatively to the past, that is. The basic unit of consumption used to be the publication. Now it’s the story. Publishers still have power, but the ability to publish themselves has given writers much more power than they used to have.

Shifting modes of scarcity: If you have what Rosen calls “the (scarce) goods,” you’ll go far. What is scarce and what isn’t has transformed—and is likely to continue doing so. More on that in a second.

The economics of human presence: This is about the business model of events, such as sponsored conferences.

The renewed importance of voice: Again, this is about scarcity. There’s no shortage of writers who can summarize a news story with no particular point of view. What’s scarce is you, your voice, your point of view. Another way to think about this is that you are your own brand.

The rise of niche journalism: Content used to come in a bundle. The newspaper or general-interest magazine presented a variety of subjects, and readers paged through it to find the things that interested them. The Internet has done away with the need for that bundle. Now, we can go straight to the subject we’re interested in. That’s a massive change, and it’s allowed what in the old days would have been small niche publications to thrive. The digital tech site AllThingsD, the subject of Rosen’s post, is an example.

I said there’d be more about transformation. Here is a “president’s letter” by Jim Brady, president of the Online News Organization, in which he addresses that very subject:

It’s funny, but just about every ONA President’s Letter ever written has prominently referenced the transformation of our industry and our craft. So, as I sat down to write this, it struck me that, instead of referencing that again, maybe we all just need to acknowledge that “change” is our new normal. “Transformation” isn’t the word we should be using, since it implies an end point, a goal reached. It’s “evolution” we’re talking about, something constant and never-ending.

In other words, prepare for a lifetime of being open to change and light on your feet. Don’t get comfortable.

Richard Gingras, the head of news products at Google and my old boss at Salon, said something similar a year ago: “The pace of technological change will not abate. If anything, it will continue to increase. To think of this as a period of transition from one state to another is unwise.”

  • King_Kaufman

    This seems related: Reader’s Digest’s parent company has just filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in four years. NPR: Reader’s Digest fails to “adapt to Internet speed.”

  • Red Shannon

    Interesting idea…giving writers their own ad space (as mentioned in Rosen’s blog). Wonder if this is something B/R might consider in lieu of monetary compensation?