Marketplace Scratch Pad

The fat lady sings for newspapers

Scott Jagow May 21, 2009

To those still hanging on to a shred of hope that print newspapers aren’t finished, renowned investigative reporter Seymour Hersh says wake up, “the game’s over.” But there is hope for investigative journalism, and it just landed in Boston.

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University held a launch ceremony this week. It featured Hersh as keynote speaker. From the BU campus newspaper, which obviously still exists:

Center director Joe Bergantino, well known around Boston for his “I-team” television work, was not shy about articulating the mission: if investigative journalism can’t be fostered, he told the crowd, “it’s not just the end of journalism, it’s the end of democracy. And that’s not an exaggeration.”

Hersh was just as apocalyptic about newspapers. “It’s over,” he said, many times. “The model’s done, the game’s over. Maybe the New York Times will find a way to stay national, but it’s over. . . And maybe the future is the model right here” — a budding collaboration between a university and local media to train independent reporters.

The center’s goal is to produce investigative reports that will be “published and aired by multiple media partners on multiple platforms.” It will also train the “next generation of investigative reporters including students at Boston University and inner-city high schools.”

I’ve been on a couple journalism panels lately, and the sentiment I keep hearing is the one Bergantino expresses — it’s vital that investigative journalism continue despite the death of print newspapers.

Sounds like BU is taking a step in the right direction.

I also recommend reading Why Journalists Deserve Low Pay, an opinion piece by Robert Picard, a media economics professor working in Sweden. Here’s an excerpt:

To create economic value, journalists and news organizations historically relied on the exclusivity of their access to information and sources, and their ability to provide immediacy in conveying information. The value of those elements has been stripped away by contemporary communication developments. Today, ordinary adults can observe and report news, gather expert knowledge, determine significance, add audio, photography, and video components, and publish this content far and wide (or at least to their social network) with ease. And much of this is done for no pay.

Until journalists can redefine the value of their labor above this level, they deserve low pay.

Well-paying employment requires that workers possess unique skills, abilities, and knowledge. It also requires that the labor must be non-commoditized. Unfortunately, journalistic labor has become commoditized. Most journalists share the same skills sets and the same approaches to stories, seek out the same sources, ask similar questions, and produce relatively similar stories. This interchangeability is one reason why salaries for average journalists are relatively low and why columnists, cartoonists, and journalists with special expertise (such as finance reporters) get higher wages.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.