James Poniewozik on the problems posed by oldfangled expectations running up against newfangled revenue streams that are a trickle compared to the rivers of yore.
From Time.com: (Posted Dec. 16)
When journalists say “you get what you pay for,” there’s often a moralistic tone to it that does no one any good. No one’s going to save journalism by hectoring people. Instead, journalists, and their audience, should look at it as a simple practical question: as it stands today, if you pay less, eventually you will get less. (Assuming, that is, no one invents a new means of subsidizing journalism without you paying anything.) Are you OK with that?
It’s an important question, without an automatic answer. A few days ago, The Awl’s Tom Scocca and Choire Sicha wrote a dialogue about a recent Times public-editor column by Clark Hoyt. One of the controversies Hoyt had written about was a case in which a Times freelancer had written about her boyfriend’s restaurant.
I won’t belabor the details, but Scocca and Sicha made an outstanding larger point about the Times’ freelancer guidelines: the paper is using far more freelancers to cut costs, yet expects them to abide by the same rigid guidelines as full-time staffers. But one thing that makes it easier for full-time staffers to follow those guidelines is, well, being paid a living wage by the Times. Which the Times either no longer wants to do or can no longer afford to do.
Scocca’s summary is devastating:
You want ethically impeccable writers? Then don’t expect them to have to hustle for a living. Don’t blame them for getting bought, let alone for the potential appearance of having previously been bought, when you’re too cheap to buy them yourself. … We are in tough Times. But stop pretending. The Times has lowered its standards. Lower standards are cheaper than high standards.
The key line there? “Stop pretending.” Maybe what the Times, and readers like my neighbor, are tacitly doing is reaching some kind of silent agreement: we are willing to do (and to read) cheaper news with lower standards, and in turn pay less for it (as employers and as consumers).