Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Why I’m going to stop listening to grown ups

Recently, the blog and Twitter-spheres have been a-flutter over a report written by a 15-year-old intern at Morgan Stanley about the media consumption habits of teenagers. The report states, among other things, that teenagers don’t like to look at banner ads or pay for things online, don’t read newspapers, don’t listen to the radio, don’t use Twitter and like to play video games.

The first wave of blog coverage treated this like a revelation from above. My God! We traditional media types really are in trouble! And teens don’t use Twitter? My entire world has been turned upside down!

The second wave was a backlash. People started to point out things like the fact this “report” contained zero objective research and was, in fact, just one 15 year old’s opinions and observations. One from the BBC also pointed out that he and his friends don’t necessarily represent every teenager on the planet.

My first thought was actually that someone should investigate Morgan Stanley for employing child labour, but never mind.

The original rush of coverage was a very interesting exercise in how tuned in these supposedly tech and media savvy commentators actually are. Anybody who thinks that the fact 15-year-olds don’t read newspapers and don’t like online banner ads is breaking news... well... hasn’t talked to one in a while. A long while.

Compare this to the reaction this blog post got. The title kind of says it all: “Why being an employed journalist is the best thing that ever happened to me.” It challenges a lot of what has become the new conventional wisdom: Traditional journalism jobs will soon no longer exist. Journalists will have to learn to build their own websites and become entrepreneurs to survive. Everyone will have to learn to be a one-man multimedia marching band, equipped with video camera, three blackberries and a microphone for every assignment. Oh yeah, and this is a good thing, because of crowd sourcing and community building, or something. Grit your teeth, grin, and enjoy the future of journalism.

This post also makes these arguments: Readers care more about reporters uncovering new stories than filling websites with multimedia doodads, learning a beat inside and out is more valuable than learning web design for a journalist, and this controversial kicker: Journalists have valuable skills they deserve to be paid for.

Check out the angry comments.

I read these media type blogs in a rather lazy way: I subscribe to an RSS feed called Journalism Blog Mashup that aggregates a lot of the biggies. I’m glad I started reading them. This Fleet Street Blues post came to me through it, for example.

But I’m even more glad I read the initial wave of reactions to the Morgan Stanley intern report, because now I know that they often don’t know what they’re talking about.

If these people, who supposedly know so much about the changing role of media, are surprised that teenagers would rather listen to LastFM than traditional radio, why should I listen to them when they tell me I will never get a real job and had better start learning HTML yesterday?

I’ll make the same disclaimers Fleet Street Blues did in a follow-up post: Of course learning computer and multimedia skills are important. Of course journalism is changing like crazy, and nobody knows where it is headed. Of course a lot of traditional jobs are becoming redundant. Of course there’s more J-school grads than jobs.

Also, I’m no luddite. I think citizen journalism is awesome, not something to be afraid of. I think social media and the internet are revolutionizing the world. Also, I’ve decided I don’t really care if newspapers survive or not, as long as journalism does.

But still. I think there’s a bizarre trend of self-hating journalists cropping up. Boo hoo, we deserve to descend into poverty, we’re so irrelevant, everyone wants to read blogs instead of us and we deserve it.

This is a totally useless attitude. I’m going to gleefully stop paying attention to it.


Plenty said...

I'm afraid the reality is, there are just not enough jobs about for everybody to become a journalist. That's the reality. In every profession. I'm glad you say you hope journalism survives in what ever form. But the reality is, that if you are dedicated to the profession, then journalistic entrepreneurialship is the way ahead for a dying mainstream journo industry - where papers are shrinking and people are shifting online., the Daily Dust, Sideways News, they all provide great content that isn't all taken from the mainstream. People just have to accept that the industry is changing. Those who don't - get left behind....

Claire said...

Every journalism grad trying to launch an online startup company would be a much bigger disaster than all of them trying to get traditional journalism jobs. If the market can't handle that many journalists, it definitely can't handle that many new companies. SOME people should do that, sure, but definitely not everyone. If I were to try it, I would partner up with a web developer instead of trying to learn it myself.