The Frustration of For-Profit News

After the Saturday Post story about the strike in Chattanooga, The Wall Street Journal covered the strike on Friday, and the Journal did not mention The Koppel-esque bit about journalists making $70 an hour. This may account for the Times review of, or dissent from, The Nation’s account of the issue that got across.

But this afternoon, The Journal put an update on the story. Writing about the case, the Journal explains that The Koppel Effect comes into play when newsroom workers vote to unionize.

“For-profit news outlets should pay highly talented journalists well. It’s no exaggeration to say that the conventional news model has been overtaken by free content, particularly on the internet. It seems ludicrous that online newspapers should ever pay people at all, much less high-quality ones like The New York Times. And it’s clearly going to be less than surprising when newspapers begin to simply give their journalists less and less. You can see the idea, and it would horrify many people, in the pay cuts The Times imposed on new hires, as well as on long-time people who knew it. Then again, many newspaper industry people would also defend those pay cuts, and would argue that while many employees probably weren’t happy about them, they got what they were really asking for and that, to be sure, some people at The Times should make a lot more money than they do. A strike, they might argue, will just make it worse.

“But the situation can’t just be fixed by higher salaries. News outlets — and by extension their Web sites — need to pay more attention to the quality of their content and to the fact that, though our society’s treasured paper’s budget is smaller, it still employs about half as many journalists as ever before. Making sure that those journalists have a voice, and at least a right to one, demands some kind of organizing.”

Journalists are by far the best paid group of workers in the journalism business. And that’s largely because The Post and its newspaper-cubicle brethren are seeking to match the blandishments of Wall Street. Why not make yourselves even richer by turning your pages into more of the sort of platform Wall Street wants you to be?

At least in the case of The Times, that aim doesn’t seem likely to derail the prospect of further publication of the GQ piece.

As for this Friday, though: could it be that there is a third risk, stemming from the duality of one profession? That too many journalists believe that they belong to an always indebted and usually mistreated white supremacist ruling class. And that because they do, they are hopelessly stunted and increasingly frightened of working too hard.