“The Business Is Broken”

But I'm still having fun all the same

I’m a business reporter, and if I had to fashion four words about the business of newspapers, I’d have to say: “The business is broken.”

This is heartbreaking considering that I just got here. I left Northwestern with a graduate degree in journalism in March 2005, and immediately landed a daily newspaper job at the Mobile Press-Register in Alabama. Score. A few months later, my loan repayment paperwork arrived—I would be paying off that Medill school loan until age fifty. No matter, I had a bright journalism future, right?

Just two years earlier, I’d turned down a lucrative tech career in pursuit of journalism, leaving behind a bachelor’s of science in computer information systems.

I didn’t know then that, just five years later, I would see the worst summer for journalists ever. I work for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer now. I’ve watched my paper shrink its page width, not replace workers, suspend reporter travel, freeze wages, and cancel the official holiday party. At a recent staff meeting, I learned that more news hole cuts were coming. I’ve wondered if I will ever again get to fly home to New Jersey for Christmas.

But do I regret choosing this path? No.

I’m going to keep doing this until it’s no longer fun, or there’s no one left to hire me, and then I’ll find something else.

And right now, journalism is just too much fun to give up. Even now. I’ve seen job openings in other fields, but I don’t want another type of job. I love learning new things. I like questioning authority and calling b.s. when I see it. I’m nosy as hell, and paid to be.

Amid all the gloom about the future of news, nobody seems to mention this: Reporting is a lot of freakin’ fun.

Even when I hit a daily low—getting scooped, anonymous Web commenters telling me I’m stupid, being lied to by a source—at least I’m not bored. I still get to add to the community conversation. I get to work alongside bright-minded colleagues with a passion for news. I get to somehow try to make sense of this crazy world for our loyal readers.

About those readers. Yes, print has fewer. But online, there are more.

The Web gives me hope. Our Web site traffic is seeing double-digit growth. People want information from brands they trust. There will always be a demand for reliable news, whether it be via blogs, or social networking sites, or magazines. Human beings are relational; we need to feel connected to one another, and one way we do that is by consuming news.

The MBAs need to figure out a way to make money off of this demand. I’m not sure what the answer will be, but, then, I hold a masters in journalism, not business. Internet service providers could perhaps pay news brands a fee for content, similar to how cable works. Someone will figure something out, hopefully before the last journalist is laid off.

In the meantime, I’m grateful to have a journalism job. And I’m still having fun.

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Andrea James is a business reporter at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.