Thursday, April 26, 2012

Whither Value? ...

I was chagrined – seriously – to read Michael Miner's piece about Tribune inking a deal with Journatic.

"What is Journatic," you ask? Aside from a company with a stupid "tech" name?

Journatic is a "Chicago-based media content provider" that "aggregates data," according to the Tribune and Miner's piece.

It is also part of the end of journalism as we know it.

TribLocal, "founded in 2007 to provide suburban communities with hyperlocal online news and a weekly print edition," according to Miner, provides valuable information. Consider this gem (thanks to the commenter on Miner's piece who called this out):

10 50 Police Department vehicles reported in Merrionette Park

"The Cook County Sheriff reported an instance of 10 50 Police Department vehicles (7756) on Jan. 28. The incident occurred in the 11700 block of S. Kedzie Ave. in Merrionette Park."

Well, now, don't you feel, um ... something?

But Journatic will (somehow) vastly improve upon such crack reporting.

Miner writes: "Data is collected and processed in the Philippines, but the writing, of necessity, goes on back home."

That's right, the data that will make up the stories about what's going on in your hometown will be collected and proceed in the Philippines, but the writing will be local.

Good, right? Reporters will retain their jobs!

No.

Journatic is currently hiring freelancers and will pay per piece.

Good, right? With a decent per-word rate, writers can earn a decent wage!

No.

Journatic pays a flat rate per piece, in tiers, including $4 stories and $2 stories.

Do not adjust your screen.

Yes, $4 stories and $2 stories.

TWO-DOLLAR STORIES.

TWO. DOLLARS.

TWO.

Now, there may be some who think that two bucks to convert data into a nonsensical item about police-department vehicles is a pretty good deal, but a) a nonsensical item about police-department vehicles is nonsensical and therefore meaningless, and 2) there very well may be something happening in your town that you may actually need to know about which you will likely not know about because who is going to let you know about it? A data-aggregating computer in the Philippines?

Here's the thing about content:

Content worth publishing costs money to produce.

And I'm not talking two dollars.

Journalists and writers of other stripes possess a skill, a skill you do not possess, even though you think you do.

Yes, most folks can string together words to form a sentence. Or something resembling a sentence.

But most people can do basic addition and subtraction.

That does not make them accountants.

I expect to see absurd postings on craigslist.

Here's a recent gem:


You can click on it to see a larger image, but these are the key bits:

- "Need a writer for blog posts"
- "Looking for someone who can write, my writing is horrible. Someone who is versed in concerts and is able to describe your concert experiences."
- "Compensation: no pay"

Yes, the gist of this posting is "I want/have a blog but I'm a horrible writer so write my blog for me for free."

Um, bub? Here's a thought, for free, even:

IF YOU'RE A HORRIBLE WRITER, DON'T BLOG.

And here's another:


Again, you can click on it for a larger image, but here are the key bits:

- "Make your Mother proud, write for us!"
- "Looking for Good Writers and Photographers"
- "Email for more application directions."
- "Compensation: no pay"

Ah, yes, what mother wouldn't be proud to know that she raised a child who is a good writer or a good photographer (or both) who is willing to work for free, and – even better – who is expected to apply for the privilege!

And since I doled out a free bit of advice for the previous poster, allow me to be as generous here:

"Gimme" is shorthand for "give me," therefore, in this instance, "gimmie" is shorthand for "give mie," and "mie" is not a word. You're welcome.

But I hoped – naively, it seems – that a paper such as the Tribune would still value those who report the news.

I understand that the Internet has led many people to believe that information should be free. But it's not.

There's a reason that you can't walk into a bookstore, grab any books or magazines that interest you, and walk out the door. There's a reason you're expected to pay for them.

Yes, we live in a world of information overload. But all information is not created equal.

Some of it is important. Some of it is engaging. Much of it is not.

And those who have the skill and talent to bring the important and engaging information to light have bills to pay just like you.

Do not expect them to work for free. Or two dollars.

Because you get what you pay for.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Dave Tutin said...

I have written about this many times. It is happening not just in journalism but in advertising, music, screenwriting...everywhere.

I call it the spiral down. And we are on it.

It's not good. But nobody seems to care. ExxonMobil may be advertising its support of the math and science initiative in America's schools (after all they cannot talk about what they actually do for a living - rape the planet) simply because they will need scientists in the future but where is the English language skills initiative? The three Rs may have itself been a terrible use of that language but it at least conveyed they were all important.

Education cannot be prioritized in this way. What we need in this country is a return to quality all-round education rather than trying to turn out what corporations need. What use is a scientist who cannot express the findings of his or her experiments?

And why can't that master computer be here in the USA? That said, it shouldn't even exist.

Change is only understood by those who know what existed on both sides of a change. When nobody remembers what great journalism was, or great music, or when people actually liked advertising because it managed to be both truthful and entertaining, we will have lost so much it makes me extremely sad. These things need saving now while we can still see what we are in the process of losing.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I heartily endorse everything you've written.

The pendulum must start swinging the other way again.

Mustn't it?

I sure hope so.

2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a new employee of Journatic (though the hiring process was so quick I didn't have time to do thorough research and am now second guessing this choice), I am now finding all the posts I am seeing fascinating, albeit a bit disturbing. I think a central theme is being missed by many who have posted here and on other blogs, and as a journalist and editor for over a decade, I think it should be mentioned and considered. Thanks to the Internet, "journalists" everywhere are losing their full time jobs with benefits..companies are either greedy, or simply trying to keep their heads above water during this super highway time. Journatic is just following suit in this endeavor or so its seems. The fact of the matter is, journalists and writers are being wholly "raped" (sorry to be so blunt but this is the case) by most publishing companies/newspapers/journals. Facets like Odesk and Elance do the same thing. Writers work for pennies..literally..because we are forced to if we want to remain in the writing field. Living in Baltimore for the past 7 years, our big time newspaper The Baltimore Sun hasn't hired many new reporters in years, yet every year THOUSANDS of journalist students are graduating only to find that there aren't enough vacant positions to fill. Thus, they have 2 choices: work for companies like Journatic or Odesk, or take a minimum wage job as a waitress..and that's if they can even find that in this slumping economy. Now that student has probably $30,000 minimum in debt and can not afford to pay their loans--and are working serving food, a job that is yes, honest work but not in their field of study. As for the shoddy work from some of Journatic's reporters mentioned, well you find that at most places..whether in the journalism field or otherwise. Every employee of every company has their own work ethic. I know a lot (too many) government employees that are paid too much money to sit on their butts all day and retired with severence packages that could feed a small country. The same goes with the journalism field. Some people are better writers than others. Some take more pride in their work. Nowadays everyone thinks they can write and the fact is, they can't. But the less talented writers do not last long, even at places such as Journatic. For the serious journalist, it is a sad day.We work 16-17 hour days, for very little money because we are passionate and believe in the written word. For journalists, a the end of the day our goal is to hone in on and improve our craft while building an outstanding portfolio so maybe, just maybe, one day we too can earn minimum wage :) Society has brought us to this place; Journatic is simply moving swiftly with what society has dictated. They want quick blurbs, flash news and as sad as it is, many could care less about good, solid journalism. They want fast news they can digest in minutes, not full length stories that woud require them to actually sit with a cup of coffee and read from start to finish. After all, that would mean minutes out of their lifetime they will never get back. Sad. I am not at all defending Journatic-just merely sharing what I have encountered along the way in my search to make a decent living as a writer.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I empathize entirely, Anon. I do.

And I recognize that this is pie-in-the-sky thinking, but what if journalists refused to work for pennies? En masse? What saddens me about the likes of Journatic and Elance and Odesk – and why the hell can't they come up with real names for their businesses, by the way? – is that every writer who agrees to write for the pittances permanently lowers the bar. I'm not indicting you. I understand the need for income. Boy, do I. But I have a friend who was recently entertaining a gig to write chapters for text books for $25/per. Chapter. Give me a break. I implored her to please turn it down. If she was that strapped for $25, hell, I'd send it to her.

I wrote an open letter to craigslist posters about this ridiculousness. Everyone wants people to write for free or next to nothing. Well, that's fine. They can want whatever they way, but folks get what they pay for. And anyone trying to launch a business based on the crap content they'll get for free or next to nothing isn't going to attract the advertisers it needs to continue because it's publishing crap content because that's what you get when you offer a penny a word or expect writers to work for free.

I know it's easy to be principled in theory. In practice is a different story entirely. But no matter how the information landscape reforms itself, there will always be a need for people to gather and disseminate information. Now more than ever, actually, we need people to be more informed, not less.

And Journatic and its ilk couldn't exist without people willing to sacrifice themselves to their business model.

12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Beth,

I couldn't agree more on all the points you mentioned. I can't tell you, and honestly don't even need to most likely, how infuriated I become when I read posts and articles from online "writers" that are plagued with grammar mistakes, poor diction/syntax and no sense of sentence structure..I'm sure that writer produced the piece for pennies or less, meanwhile the host keeper has probably made a mint--all the while that writer continues to give us real journalists/writers a bad name.

As a whole, you are absolutely right-we should take a stand for what is right and due to those of us that have spent decades working on our skills and have gone to college for years all in the pursuit of great reporting. The reality is though, as you said, most of us are starving artists, just trying to scrape together enough money to pay the mortgage and keep our name out there in any way we can.

I feel for your friend. I took have written entire ebooks at times at a penny a word, and sometimes less. I can say that I really have started to become more skeptical and particular now about the assignmnts I accept, and yes, all of us writers should continue to do so particularly those of us with many, many published pieces from reputable magazines/papers and the like. Writing for free is unfortunately a necessary evil sometimes for new journalists but should not continue to be the rule after you have earned your dues so to speak.

I plan to speak very loudly on this topic from this point on and hopefully, like you can get others to follow suit. Every state regulates minimum wage, so it should be no different for these writing forums.

I would love the link to your Craigslist post as well.

Thanks so much for your support and hopefully we can look forward to brighter, and more lucrative days ahead. From our lips....

10:05 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I truly believe that the pendulum is beginning to swing the other way in all things culture and life.

There's only so much ridiculousness people can tolerate as a culture, and as much as I see evidence of "Idiocracy" all around me (if you haven't seen that movie, do), quality seems to be returning in many ways. People appreciate artisanal foods and hand-crafted goods in favor of processed crap and dollar-store junk.

I recognize the economic need for processed crap and dollar-store junk. Unfortunately. But I see appreciation for finer things, too. At least, in the circle with which I've surrounded myself.

The link to the craigslist post is here:
http://bethkujawski.blogspot.com/2009/03/open-letter-to-craigslist-posters.html

I posted it to craigslist recently, too. Not surprisingly, no one bothered to write to denounce it. But if one person read it and it gave them even a moment's pause or a morsel of food for thought, it was worth the time it took to create a craigslist account and post it.

10:12 AM  

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