Videojournalist Michael Rosenblum asserts (without evidence or explanation) that “there is an instinctive aversion to the idea of making money amongst most journalists.”
There are a lot of journalists who aren’t allergic to making money. Think Barbara Walters or George Will. And business journalist median income exceeds the median income for the U.S. as a whole. Most journalists are in the 99% like most Americans. So?
We instinctively associate making money with ‘evil’. We like to investigate it. If someone is making a ton of money, then they must be doing something wrong…
See Peter Schweizer’s Throw Them All Out or Hacker and Pierson’s Winner Take All Politics or Barry Lynn’s How the new monopolies are destroying open markets for widespread (and lightly reported) examples of where “they are doing something wrong.” Just saying.
Craigslist, which pretty much eviscerated newspapers classifieds should have been developed and owned by us.
Google – all the news that fit to print – and a whole lot more – should have been developed and owned by us.
Youtube, Facebook, you name it. We should be exploiting this mother for all she is worth. But we don’t.
We are the perpetual groveling employees, beggaring for a few crumbs and generally seeing our jobs and incomes slashed as the web and new digital technologies roll over the old.
Who is this “we” that should have anticipated and developed Craigslist, Google, YouTube, etc? I don’t think that the CEOs and chairmen of the boards of NBC, CBS, ABC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc. think of themselves as being part of the great unwashed “us” that is working journalists.
The “us” that should have anticipated Craigslist (newspapers) has not been/is not currently owned by “us” the people who are journalists. The “us” that should have anticipated YouTube (television news) has not been/is not currently owned by “us” the extreme minority of people who work in television who are journalists.
Forget for a moment that starting and growing a business takes a different set of skills, desires and motivations than becoming an investigative or sports journalist. There’s a reason — a solid and rational one — that explains why journalists, as a group, haven’t owned newspapers, TV stations and to a lesser extent radio stations: they are bloody expensive endeavors with massive fixed costs. These businesses required a lot of capital, one of the definitions of capitalist:
Modern information creation and dissemination is marked by a distinctly reduced need for capital. In other words, you don’t have to be a capitalist to start a online publishing venture. Its one of the reasons the capitalists are getting their butts handed to them by internet start-ups.
We have to embrace making money – lots and lots of money – as a good. As a goal.
We should arrange ourselves the way lawyers do, as limited partnerships. Then some of the partners can carry on with their ‘investigative journalism’ while the others engage in more lucrative PR or Image Control and others launch web-related IPOs.
Making money should be our primary goal? Really? (I call “embracing” something making it a primary goal.)
Making money your priority in life is a route destined to dead-end in the cul de sac of unhappiness. It’s not great as a reason for starting a business, either. Here’s Ross Perot on business goals (Computer World, 1986):
I’ve seen great people come into the business world primarily motivated to make money. Almost without exception, they failed.
Saying that a key goal should be starting a company just so you can IPO is in the same ludicrous ballpark. It reminds of the Boeing VP in 1998 who declared, at an all-hands meeting, that Boeing’s business purpose was not to build airplanes but to provide a good ROI for stockholders! (I wanted to run screaming from the auditorium.)
I this this disdainful Steve Jobs quote sums it up:
I hate it when people call themselves “entrepreneurs” when what they’re really trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That’s how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or two from now. That’s what Walt Disney did, and Hewlett and Packard, and the people who built Intel. They created a company to last, not just to make money.
Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs, Kindle Locations 9760-9764. Simon & Schuster, Inc.
I think Rosenblum is confusing “capitalist” with “entrepreneur” or “risk-taker” or “inventor”. (I’m being charitable in avoiding the hanging softball “greed is good” opportunity.) Without question, he’s ignoring the truly radical change in economics that has been wrought by digital communication technology.
Craig Newmark didn’t start Craigslist because he wanted to make a lot of money. He started Craigslist to scratch an itch; it was a hobby. And because he learned that he wasn’t a good manager, he hired someone to run the company. His job is customer service. Heck, even Newmark doesn’t ascribe to Rosenblum’s insistence that making “lots” of money is important!
What turned Craigslist into the dominant community bulletin board that it is today was not a desire to be a capitalist; it was a desire to solve a problem and do it well. Digital technology made it possible to solve this problem without a lot of capital. Digital technology, coupled with exponential growth in the global network of computers, eviscerated the newspaper monopoly that had relied on classified ads as a key revenue stream.
Google didn’t start as a company that would become a key place for people to find news online. That happened after 9-11, when a Google engineer, Krishna Bharat, cobbled together a news service to meet his own desire for a dashboard of news from around the world. Digital technology made it possible to solve this problem without a lot of capital. The need for the service was so obvious that Google launched it publicly (as beta, of course) in early 2002. I’ve argued elsewhere about why Google isn’t the boogeyman that newspaper loudmouths like Rupert Murdoch claim and Rosenblum implies.
How to be successful in the new, digital marketplace?
There are simple but truthful rules of thumb like “be relevant.”
There’s luck and foresight, “be a first mover.”
But I think the most important recommendation is “know thyself.”
What are your strengths? What are your passions, the things you would do if no one ever paid you? What are the things you wouldn’t do for <insert large number here> dollars? Then find people to “partner” with, formally or informally. Think complementary (and be complimentary, when the occasion calls for it!).
But don’t let making a lot of money be your reason for being, your number one goal. Let it, instead, be the result of your reaching your goals.