You can’t say you weren’t warned.
Here are some excerpts from a recent Digiday interview with an anonymous young journalist now working at a tech company, headlined “’Not on me to save the media industry’: Confessions of an early-career journalist leaving the industry”:
I saw your recent announcement that you were leaving your job at a legacy news publication?
The company wasn’t as open to change as they said they were. It was a constant frustration. They are bringing in young people to help and change the paradigm, but they didn’t utilize them in the most effective way with their talent. We had to conform to fit this mainstream publication. I was constantly contorting my ideas to fit what’s seen as an accessible and objective story by their editors and their audience. Then I realized: I don’t have to do that. The rest of my career doesn’t have to be that…
There was no urgency to change or adapt to the times. I didn’t want to stay on what felt like a sinking ship.
What’s sinking, in your opinion? That publication or the industry as a whole?
I mean, they’re a billion-dollar business. They’re going to be making lots of money for years to come. But their influence is eroding, and trust in them is eroding. In 10 years, I don’t see any mainstream publication being the voice that people are going to when they want to learn something. It’ll be smaller publications and independent actors online who have made names for themselves outside of the mainstream. We live in a society where we don’t need mainstream publications to share our perspectives. There’s less dependence on these institutions compared to previous generations.
Why do you think many other journalists seem to be leaving the industry?
It’s not the mid-career people leaving the industry; it’s people in their first five to seven years. That’s a problem for the talent pipeline for the next generation of journalism. Maybe they’ll want to come back, but they are leaving because they are recognizing those same issues…
You get into journalism because you have this idealism to tell great stories, to change things about your community, to share underrepresented perspectives. I feel like it requires a lot of enthusiasm and energy to get some of these high-impact stories out the door. Then it’s like, why am I putting all this into this corporation? I’ll just tell stories on my own that I find myself. I have the experience as a journalist, and I don’t feel the burden of needing to conform to my editor because they’re worried about blowback from a 65-year-old white dude from California.
Mainstream media isn’t realizing that young people can build their own platforms to tell their own stories. I want to work on short films and mini documentaries on my own platforms. I don’t feel guilty leaving. It’s not on me to save the media industry.
The decline and eventual collapse of legacy media changes everything for public experts and research-driven organizations with public expertise. We all have legacy media dependency — if not on platforms through which you directly speak through as a public expert, then certainly on the bulk of the content you react to in social.
It’s like climate change for the information commons.
So what’s your adaptation plan? If you think Anonymous Young Journalist is or could be right, how are you preparing for that world in 10 years — a world with “no mainstream publication being the voice that people are going to when they want to learn something”? Are you prepared to be that voice? And/or to cobble together a new media strategy appealing to the new voices that rise up? And what steps are you taking today to bridge to that future?