Friday, May 29, 2009

In which a nation of journalists finds it is no longer alone in singing “Hand In My Pocket” 24/7

<a href="">Alanis Morissette - Hand In My Pocket</a>
It's as relevant now as it was 13 years ago, unfortunately.

Interesting article in The New York Times this week (found via Neil Best’s always excellent sports media blog at about the difficulty sports management graduates are having in finding work—paying or otherwise—in a crappy economy.

If you’re a sportswriter, a.) I’m sorry and b.) every word in this story should sound familiar, especially this passage: “The teams, leagues and others in the sports industry have taken advantage of their willingness to make financial sacrifices, and may continue to do so.”

That’s been the state of the world for journalists since, oh, 1723 or so. Media companies have never been shy about taking advantage of the goodwill of young writers who think this field is a calling (whether out of admiration for Woodward and Bernstein or the belief that there is no better way to make a living than at a ballpark) as well as the older ones who have gotten addicted to the rush of deadline and the environment of journalism and have no idea what else to do with themselves.

Such exploitation has gotten particularly bad in the last 10 years as the Internet has provided billions of words of free content generated by fans. I am not at all complaining about this opportunity fans enjoy, because without it this blog would not exist, and in fact the content generated by passionate fans in Boston is a pretty pivotal theme of two chapters in Fighting Words (A ha! How’s that for a tie-in to the book?).

But it’s a fact that entire companies have been built on the backs of people writing for nothing. Why shouldn’t the powers that be begin to think that nobody should be paid for the privilege of writing about sports? One former employer used to try and scare me by telling me it had a million bloggers willing to do my job for free, and I’ve spent more than one sleepless night wondering if I am in fact proving it correct and condoning such exploitation by writing for free here and at another blog I produce.

There are a lot of days when I wonder if journalism is a lot like majoring in typewriter repair. That’s not entirely accurate, of course: The basics of journalism and newsgathering remains much more viable than knowing how to repair a ribbon, but with newspapers perishing by the day and other paying opportunities dwindling as well, how can journalism schools continue to prepare students for a career that is all but non-existent?

We may soon ask the same questions of schools that offer the sport management major. In the Times article, Mark McDonald of the University of Massachusetts called sport management “…one of the sexy industries” and noted how “…it’s very hard to discourage students from joining the industry.

“I feel for the students who haven’t done the preparation.”

I feel for the students—young and old—who have, as well.

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