Luke O’Neil, writing for Esquire:
Everyone wants everything for free now—news, music, movies, etc.—which means the companies don’t have any money to pay people to produce original work. None of this is anything you haven’t heard before, but it bears repeating. In order to make a living, those of us who had the bad sense to shackle ourselves to a career in media before that world ended have to churn out more content faster than ever to make up for the drastically reduced pay scale. We’re left with the choice of spending a week reporting a story we’re actually proud of (as I do just frequently enough to ensure a somewhat restful sleep every other night), reaping a grand sum of somewhere in the ballpark of two hundred to five hundred dollars if we’re lucky, or we can grind out ten blog posts at twenty-five to fifty bucks a pop that take fifteen minutes each. That means the work across the board ends up being significantly more disposable, which in turn makes the readers value it less, which means they want to pay less for it, and so on. It’s an ouroboros of shit.
I think there’s something of a flimsy excuse in here, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Decent reporting was hard, often thankless work even in the pre-internet days. In some ways, it has gotten better — stories which matter are circulated and read more widely than they would have been if they were only available in printed form.
But this hasn’t come without a high price. While it has never been cheap to produce an investigative report, the conflation of reduced advertising revenue, higher investigative costs, and a world in which we need good reporting more than ever has produced a climate antithetical to great reporting.
Then again, it’s worth remembering that the internet didn’t necessarily kill newspapers. However, it has accelerated the decline.
In somewhat related news, I received an email from ProPublica the other day seeking donations. If you like investigative reporting that matters, you should probably donate. ProPublica does great work.