Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The "Old McKinsey Magnifying Glass"

Check out the Brent Arends story this morning on MarketWatch. A former consultant at McKinsey & Co., he pivots from some of the testimony at last week's Federal Trade Commission hearing to show how dire the future is likely to be for professional journalists -- and how hard it will be to groom succeeding generations -- under the emerging online advertising model.

So long as news tries to live off online advertising alone, the future for journalists is not bright. Journalism may become like acting or being a musician: There will be fewer full-time jobs, and they will pay poorly. A lot of news writing will end up being done by amateurs, those with day jobs or by kids just out of college, sharing rooms in Brooklyn, N.Y., before they go on to "real" careers.

As if this alone wasn't disturbing enough, Arends uses his "old McKinsey magnifying glass" to concludes that journalism will conform to the 80-20 rule. That is, 20 percent of the stories will be the only ones that make money. Guess which ones those are?

What gets lost in the 80 percent that is swept away are the stories that we need for a functioning democracy -- how your congressman voted, which state legislator held a fundraiser before the big vote and why your sewer rates are five times the national average. It's not that for-profit sites can't deliver this stuff -- it's just not profitable.

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