The ‘Great Winnowing’ has begun

Two pieces caught my attention today: Mathew Ingram’s “Godin to authors: You have no right to make money any more” and Andrew Beaujon’s “Reporter who created ‘We Are Journalists’ Tumblr takes PR job.” Both address the most troubling aspect of media disruption for the status quo — the decreasing ability of people to make “good” money by practicing the craft of journalism, whether it’s book publishing or writing for a news publication.

Mathew’s piece, with the attention-getting headline, looks at comments from Seth Godin about how the whole paradigm has changed. Godin:

Who said you have a right to cash money from writing? Poets don’t get paid (often), but there’s no poetry shortage. The future is going to be filled with amateurs, and the truly talented and persistent will make a great living. But the days of journeyman writers who make a good living by the word — over.

Andrew’s story looks at the decision of Emily Nipps to take a PR job. Ms. Nipps authored the highly-regarded “We Are Journalists” Tumblr for the Tampa Bay Times but is leaving, because she can’t make any money.

“I feel like I’m betraying everybody,” Nipps says by phone. She really enjoys her work at the Poynter-owned paper, but wage cuts and pay freezes have taken their toll: “I feel like I’m broke,” she says. “I’m going to be 35 this year. These are my earning years, and I feel like I can’t get ahead.”

Both of these stories — and their accompanying comments — represent the conflict between the expectations of professionals versus the realities of the marketplace. I deeply sympathize with those who are in Ms. Nipps’ boat, and those commenters on Mathew’s piece who resent what Seth is saying. What seemed like a dream job at the outset has turned into a disaster for many, regardless of who’s to blame.

What we’re going to see over the next several years is a “Great Winnowing” in the industries of journalism, a shifting in the marketplace of ideas and information from one driven by paid professionals to one driven by passion, whether amateur or professional. Those who make it best will be independent contractors, those who live and thrive apart from the teat of mother employer. This is likely to be a brutal place, which means the selling of the “occupation” to wide-eyed high schoolers will be problematic for universities and the institution itself.

But that’s what winnowing is all about. I’m not saying it’s good or bad; it is what it is.


  1. Here in Berkeley, ca, where nobody but profs, earn squat, and the rest of us, poets, writers, and snits–stay in the chase, fueled by small egotistical crumbs of gratification, we delude our selves
    with the benefits of life on Berkeley’s high-crime South side. We gave up on money years ago.

    I “work” for the Berkeley Daily Planet, and may get paid any day now, but that just doesn’t matter to me. A 1961 journalism graduate, I was homeless in the 70’s, and a 35 year drop-out thereafter. I’m just so grateful to be able participate.

    I hope you don’t have to write press releases. I’m assuming you won’t.

    Working on a piece on Louis Farrakhan, who will be here this weekend. What can you say about LF? Did you know that he loves butt-humor, and sprinkles his speeches with butt jokes.

  2. Shonna Magnett says

    Dumbing down the science takes away from the program. If they take such liberties with the facts as saying wasps have breasts, what else would the writers be willing to distort. Just use the correct terminology, please. The credibility of PBS is at stake.


  1. […] is why I wrote last week of the Great Winnowing that has begun, wherein the practice of journalism is having its way with a whole generation of […]

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