Is Homo Journalisticus too specialized to survive?


Professional journalism has become so specialized it may not be able to adapt to a new financial ecosytem 

Poynter Institute commentator Steve Outing recently wrote a post, Why Journalists Suck at Business, that he wrote in response to a similar article byMediaShift author Mark Glaser (Journalists, Bloggers Have a Sorry History at Startups).

I left a variant of the following remarks as a comment to Outing’s post.

I have had an unusual career, if it could be so called. I have started two businesses, including a community newspaper that is still in print some 17 years later. So I’ve done business and major metro journalism. The latter is so highly specialized as to be ripe for extinction. Newspaper journalists disdain business or are at very least ignorant of the details of their own industry, be it ad sales or circ or whatever. Its that Chinese Wall business. Journalists are supposed to be immune from ad pressure (and also believe in the tooth fairy).

This aspect of our professional culture makes news-gatherers ill adapted to a new world in which journalism is going to be downsized by corporate media and unsupported by Web 2.0 media (which rarely pays for user-generated content).  Journalists must find the missing link – sales.

If you are an entrepreneurial journalist and you find a salesperson is interested in your approach, get down on both knees and begin kissing their feet, starting with the soles. But chances are you cannot find such a person because salespeople are, by nature, money-driven. Public policy or “mission” journalism is not.

So YOU, the journalist with the mission, will have to learn to sell. I, so far, have not learned that lesson. In fact I blew a good chance back in 1989 when my wife and I started our community newspaper, the North Coast Journal. I was the editor. I asked my wife, the hippie chick, to sell. She did a fair  job. We had a nursing boy at the time and we used to joke that her closing trick was to open a couple of buttons and suckle the kid. I was too pure for that. She did my dirty work.

Nowadays I’d almost take the chemical treatments to develop mammaries, and wet nurse some kid if I thought it’d help me develop a news media business model. On a more useful note, perhaps, I once blogged about Ventura County Star editor Joe Howry, who excoriated print ad salespeople and bemoaned the fact that journalists are not in control of their revenues.

One last thing. Why is the wall Chinese? Does it go back to the Opium Wars???