Tolles sees a journalism future of more work, less pay

In the recent issue of PressTime, Topix CEO Chris Tolles talks about the future of journalism and says,

“I don’t think you’re going to have the same kind of stories that you’d have in traditional papers. Your site should have 100 stories a day, not six. Journalists are going to have to work longer, harder and for less money. Think about blogs – you’re going to have to write 12 stories a day at $25 a pop.”

Lucas Grindley has done a great series of posts on the PressTime article, he responded specifically to this quote, and not necessarily favorable to Chris’s POV.

In my world, most journalists already work long hours. They work hard, and they’re not getting rich. The idea that Tolles would implement worse work-life conditions is baffling. Even worse is Tolles suggestion for how to accomplish this feat of 12 stories per day, per reporter.

I dropped Tolles an e-mail and noted my lack of surprise at the reaction. With his permission, I’m posting his response:

That wasn’t meant as a prescription, as much as a prediction.

I’m looking at Gawker and the like as the stalking horse for whatever the newspaper business is likely to become. Nick is currently paying $12 a post, but modeling out a pay-per-view scenario according to my friends over there.

I’m sure most journalists work hard and don’t get paid much – but the issue here is that newspapers mismanage what they have, and the reporters, eventually, pay by losing their jobs from what I can tell.

Part of my schtick, obviously, is to gore some sacred cow here – but, seriously, reporters need to start caring about how many people read and care about what they write, and measuring themselves in ways that eventually align with the business of gaining audience.

Everybody in journalsim land wants to get the same paper they had with all those monopoly profits, but on the web. I think the paper of the future is going to look a lot more like gawker or curbed, or a topix forum, and a lot less like the NY Times, and the sooner they start building it, the better off we’ll all be for it.

Personally, as a reader of the SF Chronicle, I live in constant fear of my newspaper just disappearing one day, or getting replaced by some clear channelized piece of crap – so not a little bit of this is a wakeup call.

If you cast this whole new media thing as the Reformation, it all makes sense. I’m just trying to point out that it’s in process, and humpty dumpty can’t put back what was lost once those monopoly profits go away.

But you know what they say about the messenger. :-)

Note that Chris left a shorter, similar comment on Lucas’s post, and Lucas responds in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Tolles sees a journalism future of more work, less pay

  1. Fair question. In asking Chris permission to post, I didn’t want him to fear that I’d hijack his words to my own ends (regular readers know we’ve tangled before), so I promised to not comment myself.

  2. “Personally, as a reader of the SF Chronicle, I live in constant fear of my newspaper just disappearing one day, or getting replaced by some clear channelized piece of crap …”

    Is he talking about the same Chronicle I’m familiar with? The Chron been a joke long before Jason Robards mouthed his famous line in “All the President’s Men”.

    What always amuses me is when media people discuss “the answer” to online media, or the future of newspapers. There is always a “one size fits all” approach which ignores the reality of the media world: there is room for many approaches.

    For instance, is “long form” dead? No, its simply a minority of the print out there — always has been. In the hey day of newspapers, there was room for the Times, the World, the Star, the New York Review of Books, etc. But junk always outnumbered “the good stuff”. Why will online be any different?

    Other media follows the same rule: for every PBS there are ten (or more) Foxs. For every New Yorker there are ten (or more) People magazines. Again, why should online be any different?

    The truth is that the same newspapers that produce wire copy stuffed issues with little or no local insight will move online producing the same quality of journalism electronically.

    I for one, believe that the NY Times can succeed as a quality news outlet online. It’s biggest challenge will not be having its reporters and editors adapt, but having its sales and business staffs adapt. Example: a brilliant marrying of print and video occurred when the Times did a story about Italian politics last week. The video contained a short “pre-roll” ad. It turns out that this video, and the “print” story, was seen world-wide and created quite an impact. Did the Times get a fair amount for this video ad? Or was it simply an ad thrown into a rotating inventory of ads? In other words, here was a situation where the online media was invaluable — yet traditional media companies are ill-equipped to properly sell and value its quality online content.

  3. If journalists get paid even less than they do now and work even more, there will not be any quality journalism. Many of the top j-school students never go into journalism in the first place because of how bleak journalism is.

    Journalism pays poorly as it is, which is why so many young journalists (especially tech savvy ones) are leaving the field. Why make a wage that you could have made without even going to college? It makes no sense.

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