The Decline of Journalism as I Know It

April 2, 2009 at 7:57 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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My entire career has been defined by decline. I graduated from journalism school in 2000 amid a dot-com bubble. People were making money hand over fist, especially in California. In Kansas City, where I made my home, it only took me a couple of months to land a job in the exact field I studied. I was the junior level art director at a bi-monthly publication with an art budget of about $3500 a month. I remember assisting at photo shoots, finding and working with illustrators, and buying up stock art.

Then the proverbial poop hit the fan. I was laid off in 2001, along with countless others in my company and industry. The magazine I worked for folded a year later. It just so happened that another magazine in our company was hiring just as I was laid off, so I was able to move to another staff. And I’ve been there ever since. I started as the junior art director in charge of one publication. I designed the cover and four feature spreads per month. We didn’t have an art budget, so I had to rely on whatever stock art and supplied art I could get for free.

Fast forward eight years. Until just recently I was senior art director of three publications, each of which has one cover and one feature spread. Now two of my magazines have merged, and we’re getting ready to launch an entirely new website. The web has changed everything for our industry. When I first started, the company ran our website (which was incredibly ugly), and it just contained re-purposed material from the magazine. Now, in addition to putting up content from the magazine, our staff produces audio and video podcasts, myriad e-newsletters, and other online content, in addition to our print duties. The new site is going to have a social networking component, something that will hopefully enable us to compete in our dwindling market. Ad revenues for online content are severely less than in the print model, and we’re expected to do more work for less money. In this climate, those of us in journalism feel lucky that we have a job at all. Gone are the days of hundreds of reporters pounding the pavement, like the days of my grandfather, who was a journalist during its heyday. Sadly, things are only going to get worse. But I have hope — we’re adapting, learning new skills, finding new definitions of our job titles, and finding ways to connect to our readers like never before. With any luck we’ll weather this storm.

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