Last weekend I attended the Chicago Media Future Conference, or rather what will be the first of many events under that umbrella title. I went in part to support my friend Scott Smith, one of the organizers, but also because I have an interest in this stuff, both vested and non. As one of the (conventional wisdom would have it) few who've made the upstream swim from online to print, I've got a stake in the discussions about how print media will survive and/or (emphasis on the or) evolve.
The two panels last Saturday were, I thought, refreshingly less doom-y and backwards-facing than some other recent assemblies on the topic here in Chicago. But as an arts journalist, I did feel—more in hindsight than in the moment—a bit excluded. My impression is that these conversations as a whole are being dominated by hard-news journos. Investigative and civic-affairs reporting is obviously vital and should be emphasized in any discussions about the future of journalism. But for all the hand-wringing in the arts communities about how to deal with shrinking media coverage—the last time I'd been in the space where the CMFC was held, Columbia College's Film Row Cinema, it was as a panelist for arts orgs on that very topic—I'm starting to wonder how seriously we're being considered in the larger whither journalism discussion.
The observation that's really stuck with me over the last ten days was made after the conference, at the informal afterparty down the street at the Wabash Tap. My friend Andrew Huff, the proprietor of Gapers Block, told me that two or three people had separately suggested to him in recent weeks that the future career model for journalists might be a lot like that of actors. That is to say, only a fraction of a percent of those who go into the profession will get steady jobs (staff positions/TV gigs) or achieve high incomes (columnists/celebrities); the majority will go from gig to gig or project to project, and guaranteed employment for journalists will become the exception, not the norm. Those stumping for full-time staff writers at publications will come to sound like evangelist outliers, much as those who campaign for resident repertory ensembles do now. The majority of people who try to make a go of it as working journalists will do so, like those who go into acting, because they're driven by a passion for the work. Many will likely work for little or no pay in hopes of establishing a career (Non-Equity/bloggers? And if we're talking bloggers, isn't this already the case, cough cough?) [Please note none of this is necessarily my opinion, but me relaying and expanding upon what was laid out by others.]
It's a compelling parallel that, oddly, had never occurred to me before. Your thoughts?