So you want to be a (digital) journalist

Check out this thought-provoking piece (http://fus.in/1GfPbhS) from fellow Reuters alumni Felix Salmon, now with Fusion, on careers (or the lack thereof) in ‘digital’ journalism — loosely defined as the morass of ‘platforms’ and media startups that are replacing radio and newspapers as the budding newsperson’s employer of choice. Leaving aside the irony of someone who’s carved out a career at as a digital journalist at a millennial-minded media outlet writing about how it’s impossible to do exactly that, the article makes a couple of very salient points.

First, the (US)  journalism salary scale — where pay apparently tops out at around $60,000 — is exactly why we have head-scratching situations like these (http://slate.me/1K0CWH3), where Pulitzer winners are forced to leave the industry to make ends meet. It’s also true the rapid proliferation of new media ‘platforms’ is likely to not only prove disruptive to traditional forms of media, but to these platforms themselves, and the young digital natives that power them. Even the newest industries are subject to the laws of economic gravity — increased supply leads to lower prices, for subscriptions and advertising and journalists alike. And if technology is the only differentiator, it’s the only thing that’s truly irreplaceable, and where the only substantial investments will be made.

So does that leave journalism best pursued as a hobby? As Salmon seems to conclude, probably not. Most people don’t get into it for the money in the first place, and there will always be journalists who manage to thrive; it’s just going to be a lot more competitive. We also agree that cultivating craft and expertise in something specific, whether it’s the offshore bond markets or scripting for video, is probably the best form of job insurance there is. A specialisation can always prove valuable in another field, if, as is the case with our Pulitzer winners these days, journalism doesn’t allow you to pay the rent.

No hard sell

It’s not a daily event, but every once in a while, the worlds of journalism, publishing and marketing converge to create content that shines. Thanks to the clever folks at Contently for tipping us off (http://bit.ly/1CBB8Tv) to an exceptional example from Marriott Hotels, which has just launched a travel magazine that’s (so far at least) beautifully designed, well-written and genuinely informative. It also barely mentions the company or its plush properties throughout (though the website of course makes booking a stay very easy if one is so inclined). Check out the inaugural issue, on New Orleans, here: http://traveler.marriott.com/new-orleans/

Rather than badgering an audience to make a purchase, this approach positions Marriott as an authoritative (and entertaining) source of intelligence on a perennially interesting topic — a much better way to keep people coming back. Also interesting is that the project has the potential to generate revenue in its own right. A tip of the n/n hat to Marriott for challenging some common, if usually unspoken, beliefs about marketing — that it’s typically a cost centre, should stick to formulas and is no place for quality journalism, or the truth. We know where we’ll be booking our next vacation.