Skip to content
May 13 / King Kaufman

CJR’s “best moment to be in journalism” piece precedes layoffs

It’s hard out here for a journalism optimist, and if you don’t believe me, take a look at the ironic juxtaposition of two stories that happened late last week.

On Thursday, magazine editor and freelance writer Ann Friedman published a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review with the headline: “This is the best moment to be in journalism: The old stuff isn’t coming back, but that’s okay.”

In it, she describes traveling around to various journalism conferences where she found herself in the role of Future of Journalism cheerleader in the face of all the pessimism and worry among the people she encountered there.

Then on Friday came news of layoffs and cutbacks at the Columbia Journalism Review, the very publication where Friedman had waxed so optimistic.

Two top editors were laid off, Capital New York’s Joe Pompeo wrote, and two others were given the choice of being laid off or cut to half-time, with their answer not yet made public. Pompeo wrote:

The layoffs were characterized to Capital as a precautionary measure, based on projections of how much money CJR is expected to raise in the coming fiscal year to pay back the annual budget the Journalism School fronts it.

The CJR is published by the Columbia Journalism School.

Even if Friedman didn’t know about the impending layoffs—and there’s no reason to think she would have—she had to know there would be some bad journalism business news soon after her post appeared, giving critics of her approach a chance to dismiss her argument. She was ready for that:

Here’s a little secret: Even if I’m wrong and it’s not the best moment, we’d all be well-served to operate as if it is. Because you know what? The old models aren’t coming back. Lamenting the death of classifieds and display advertising and annual subscribers isn’t serving anyone. The sooner journalists start seeing disruption and technology as opportunity, the better off we’ll all be.

Friedman writes that journalists can learn a lot from the people she met at a conference of designers and entrepreneurs, who mostly talked “about how to take smart, creative risks.”

“Creative risk-taking is now a core journalistic job skill,” she writes, “and it needs to be prioritized.”