Journalism is dying and I have no idea what will happen to us

Most journalism these days is mere 'electronic photocopying', according to Kelly Baker. She aches for the loss of the craft she loves, and wonders what the future holds for a journalist with nowhere to go.

I started out as a 19-year-old copy kid at a rough and tumble regional newspaper where big stories, written by big men, broke often.

Fast forward 30 years and here I am. Still a journalist, but with no real place to ply my wares.

Journalism no longer exists in this country. Not like it used to.

Newspapers are slowly (rapidly in some cases) dying out and being replaced by online news outlets. But the quality just isn’t there anymore. Or, at the very least, it’s hard to find.

And yet the first thing I do each day is reach for my phone and check Apple News. I want to know what’s going on in the world, even if it is poorly-structured and littered with typos and, occasionally, not even based on facts at all.

Sure, I’m subscribed to more serious and legitimate news sources. But even they’re not what they ought to be.

I was mortified to post on the Guardian’s Instagram feed that they needed to check their spelling. I wasn’t trying to be an asshole, but it breaks my heart to see a prestigious product pumping out statements that aren’t spelt correctly.

Don’t get me wrong, I have worked online. And I know the pressure to get stories published, fast. And there’s nobody to check them and human beings aren’t machines – we’ll occasionally hit the wrong keys. But still. The craft of journalism itself seems to be dying out too.

Very little of what appears online is written by trained journalists. Very little is researched. There are few interviews.

There is, however, plenty of lightweight faff about random folk in small towns (often in other countries) who did something despicable that someone figures Australians would like to read about.

Most of it can be referred to as electronic photocopying. The main skill of online ‘journalists’ is that they get up early. They scan the internet to see what’s already live. If anything piques their interest, it’s tweaked and republished. With a byline. Why you’d want to put your name on something that is essentially someone else’s work baffles me. And, again, I don’t say this to point fingers. I have done it myself, with gusto.

Back when I worked in newspapers, I figured it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to spend my life. I wanted more. Maybe I was just trying to hide the fact I didn’t have what it took to knock on someone’s door and tell them their child was dead. I did it though. And it nearly killed me. So I turned to magazines.

News is about providing a voice for those who don’t have one. It’s about the truth. Magazines are about entertainment. And money. I loved it.

Bring me long, leisurely interviews with lead times to match. Give me the pressure of wooing ad dollars instead of holding the hands of parents who lost their kids.

But eventually I saw the writing was on the wall for magazines too, so I moved to the world of digital and learned how it worked: how to navigate a CMS and social media, how to interpret analytics and clicks. My soul died a little.

Real journalists can nose out a yarn, connect with people, be compassionate and kind, and coax a story out of someone who may or may not want to part with it. And after all of that, they can sit and write a story that’s persuasive and has the power to leave a reader thinking and feeling and altered in some way.

Those journalists are few and far between today. Because the opportunities for them are few and far between. And so they have had to abandon their craft. Become teachers, corporate communications officers, editors of in-house magazines. They’re good at that, of course. But my heart aches for this profession, this craft and its loss.

I keep hearing about the return of long form and I love the idea. But when will it happen? And when (if indeed) it does, who will be the salty sea dogs who will teach and guide?

There won’t be any. Because we’ll have died out. Or gone quietly away to earn money in other professions, teaching office workers about apostrophes and how it’s best to own a mistake rather than offer public statements pointing the finger.

We will get paid for that, of course, and we won’t complain. After all, this is progress, I suppose.

I had it good. Real good. For a damn long time. But who will teach young up and comers? Who will tell the extraordinary stories of the ordinary people of Australia? Where will those stories go?

I have no answers. All I know is I need to feed my two kids, and support their expensive digital lives. And I have no idea how I will do it. None whatsoever.

Kelly Baker is a freelance journalist. She is the former beauty and health director of the Australian Women’s Weekly and editor of Shop Til You Drop, and a regular contributor to 9Honey.


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