As citizens demanding better results from the media, it’s time we asked different questions about the global economic structure.
Longtime news media guru Jim Romenesko published an interesting letter by a self-described “pissed off” photojournalist, who makes an important point about the lack of respect for his niche of journalism.
It’s easy to blame the bean-counters, the economy or the current trends as newspapers continue trying to keep relevant by adding more and more web content and of course the ‘get someone who can do it all – and cheaply too’ philosophy. And actually, I think it’s all of those facts put together plus a general lack of respect for the photojournalist.
It’s a pity, or a disgrace, to see such demands being made at a time when many salaries offered are barely enough to pay the bills.
Romenesko proceeds to pose the question, is this outdated thinking? Well, it’s outdated thinking as long as one accepts the systemic premises that make it outdated—and they may not be as legitimate as they seem.
As an ABC Action News employee/Romenesko commenter correctly argues, the idea that journalistic operations are searching for employees who can “do it all — and cheaply too” isn’t limited to just photojournalists, or the American media as a set of institutions.
Writers are now expected to be able to write long-form articles, Tweets, blog posts and… edit. Many papers are eliminating straight copy editors and fact checkers and making them paginate, as well. Television journalists are expected to be able to write a complete web story which is also a completely different form of storytelling.
And there’s probably examples in other industries, as well. Everyone needs to know how to do more, and do it well.
This important concept extends quite broadly into the way all private institutions are functioning right now. Firstly, one must understand the structural requirements of the new global state-guided market system. Institutions currently have no choice but to chase profit, market share, and consolidation of decision-making power at the expense of absolutely all other values, and one must stress that they have no choice, or they’re out of business. Global market competition is ruthless in the 21st century. Is this a new and unfamiliar concept? Of course not. But the effects today are precisely what the commentator describes—institutions across the board are realizing that they can “do more” (profit more) with less human resources, regardless of whether or not this tactic benefits society and the free flow of quality information.
University of Michigan economist Mark Perry explains:
If companies can produce more output now than in 2007 with fewer workers and record profits, where’s the incentive to hire more workers?
The Great Recession stimulated huge productivity and efficiency gains as companies shed marginal workers and learned how to do “more with less (fewer workers).” The surge in productivity over the last few years may be unprecedented in recent history and may be responsible for a “structural shift” in the U.S. economy that will have long-lasting effects, e.g. an extended period of time with a jobless rate above 7%
But here comes the key question, a question that is mysteriously never asked: why should consumers accept the described permanent (or even temporary) “structural shift”? It is not a law of nature that these kinds of business decisions must be made by a fraction of a percentage point of America’s wealthiest individuals who have managed to consolidate decision-making power. That power, in fact, can actually be held accountable or even redistributed in such a way that it promotes more public participation and concedes to public interests. The first step, however, is asking that fundamental question: why should anyone accept a damaging structural shift functioning as a trend within the economy?
This trend has especially grave implications in the realm of the media, considering the media’s hypothetical role in being essential to the modern democratic process. At least in principle, the media should have little or no structural barriers that prevent it performing its role as a public service. The current economic status quo in which the media functions, however, does prevent it from being all that it could be, as the photojournalist explains. Therefore, if on cannot logically accept this institutional structure as being legitimately beneficial, then one shouldn’t accept the pathetic results that prioritize profit and market share over humanitarian values.