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The Economics of Being a Journalist

This feature returns with neither a rant nor a rave but an op/ed piece written by Brett Arends for MarketWatch submitted by Paul Weissler with this preface:

“This guy’s column is a semi-political piece, but it does go through the economics of being a journalist, and that’s a subject that many of your contributors have raised (including yours truly). The issue of speed-and-money applies to us in automotive journalism as much as to those in any other editorial specialty.

I cover press events that I find are posted on the web as the programs are finishing. Or not much better, a journalist goes up to the key presenter, asks a couple of general, leading questions while a guy with a video camera records the answers. Five minutes later, with one lead-in paragraph, the piece is on the website with a link to the video. No reflection, no edit, and probably not much money for the two guys.

Because I write for tech-oriented audiences, such as at Automotive Engineering International (SAE) and MOTOR Magazine, I get a little more time to produce an in-depth tech piece. Fortunately, that also pays somewhat better, because it costs me about $60 to $75+ just to go from my NJ home to a press conference in NYC. The tabs: $18.80 tolls, about $21-25 for gas even at NJ’s lower prices; and $20-35 for NYC parking if there’s no free parking from the car company. But the “little more time” to package the article still means working deep into the night and beyond, as the online audience has already seen once-over-lightly pieces at other websites. So it doesn’t want to wait “forever” (a couple of days or so) for AEI to provide an in-depth report with analysis.

As a result, I’ve become a big fan of embargoes, although I know car companies consider them a pain to monitor. As for the pay, well I’ve talked about that before, and the business case for covering any event is simple. Unless anyone writing for $50-$75 has multiple outlets for each event he’s covering, he might as well stay home rather than drive to a press conference, even if he doesn’t have all the NYC-level tolls and parking costs I do.”

The news media is even worse than you think

Brett Arends: Market Watch

5 corrupting influences are keeping the public from the facts

Anyone who feels cynical about the U.S. media has been having a good few weeks.

There have been the high profile goofs — by CNN, in its coverage of the Boston bombings, and by Howard Kurtz, the famous media “critic” in a blog post about gay athlete Jason Collins. The Tribune Company faces a potential takeover by the, er, colorful Koch brothers.

And it all comes, with perfect timing, on the tenth anniversary of the exposure of Jayson Blair, the serial fabulist, at the New York Times.

The Icon worn by Roger Sterling in Mad Men season 6.

It’s become a cliché these days to say you don’t trust the media. But you know what? You’re right not to do so.  The problems aren’t as bad as they appear. They are much, much worse.

And, as usual, almost everyone is focused on exactly the wrong things.

The problem isn’t that the occasional journalist makes a mistake on deadline. We’re human, folks. The problem isn’t big business, or corporate control. It isn’t even the Koch brothers. If you’re a liberal, you should probably want them to blow $600 million on a loss-making newspaper company.

Here are the real problems. And I don’t see any solutions.

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freelance auto tech journalist and membership chairman of IMPA