Look at me journalism
2 Jun 2010

The cover story in CJR this month is by Moe Tkacik (formerly of the Gawker empire), who describes her journey from earnest (if inexperienced) investigative journalist to jaded confessional blogger. This is her take on what's happened to journalism in the last decade: 

 When the Internet forced journalism to compete economically after years of monopoly, journalism panicked and adopted some of the worst examples of the nothing-based economy, in which success depends on the continued infantilization of both supply and demand. At the same time, journalism clung to its myths of objectivity and detachment, using them to dismiss the emerging blogger threat as something unserious and fundamentally parasitic, even as it produced a steady stream of obsessive but sneering trend stories on the blogosphere.

I find this an interesting assessment of the state of journalism today. What she doesn't really address, and what I find even more depressing, is that the Internet exposed the public's voracious consumption for gossip and opinion in all forms, essentially decimating "real" journalism. No wonder the blog has risen triumphant.

 The vast majority of the journalists I know who have lost their jobs as reporters and columnists at newspapers & magazines (online or other) -- jobs they lost because of the tanking economy and the dismal finances of the media -- have typically ended up at blogs making a fraction of what they used to make for work that is half as serious as what they used to do.  The film critic does TV recaps, the investigative reporter writes short news items about entertainment industry scandals, the feature writer writes opinion pieces for her own web site, the essayist twitters because no one will pay to publish his pieces anymore. 

No wonder it's become a "look at me" media economy -- when you're already sinking not only into unemployment and poverty, burnishing your "voice" and "brand" may seem like the best shot at avoiding invisibility and irrelevance altogether.

That said, there are plenty of interesting new endeavors that I find inspiring, places where the Net hasn't destroyed journalism but is enabling it - like the new Bay Area Citizen, which is taking over where the SF Chronicle has failed; or the  non-profit journalism endeavor ProPublica, which works with bigger institutions to fund serious investigative reporting.

Still, whenever I talked to my journalist friends, the reports I hear are grim. I feel fortunate to have started a second career as an author: I can still do journalism when I feel like it (or need to be), but I'm not dependent on it the way I was before. I can remain at least slightly detached from the struggles of an industry that I still love, but no longer rely on for financial or emotional fulfillment. 

Opportunities I missed
10 May 2010

In the process of redesigning my Web site, my esteemed designer recently created a gmail email account for me. The email address he chose for me (which I won't publish here, so as to avoid spam bots) is long and unwieldy and involves two period and three words. I looked at it and remembered the day, so many years ago, when I received an invitation to beta-test gmail. I could, at that point, have been janelle@gmail.com. Instead, I thought to myself "why do I need a gmail account when I've got a perfectly good email account of my own?" and passed.

How silly I was.

In the eighteen years that I've been online (and I'm not exaggerating here - I had my first email address in 1992) I've missed a lot of these opportunities. Back in 1996, when the Web was in its infancy, co-workers of mine were snapping up domain names that they thought would eventually be valuable. For a $10 investment, I guy I knew sold a domain name (it was Chat.com or Shop.com or something like that) for over a million dollars. I took the same $10 and bought myself falafel and a beer. 

I didn't bother buying Google stock at $85 a share on the day that it went on the market, even though I had been using the search engine in beta testing and knew how amazing it was. How could its value possible go any higher than it is now?, I thought. Silly me. Those shares have since increased invalue many hundreds of times over. Similarly, I didn't buy Apple stock even when I knew they were about to launch a game-changing MP3 player. Oops.

Granted, I was a technology journalist and probably shouldn't have been buying tech stocks anyway (you know - conflict of interest and all those pesky journalism ethics issues). But it hurts sometimes to think of the things I missed out on, because of my own lack of foresight, overzealous penny-pinching, and plain old procrastination. With, say, Sex.com in my pocket and a hundred shares of Google, I could have made my life a lot easier than it was.

In comparison, missing out on a good gmail name seems like small potatoes. So I'll never be janelle@gmail.com - I'll live. 

At least I got to janellebrown.com first. Somewhere, out there, some other Janelle Brown is probably kicking herself.

What golden opportunities have *you* missed out on?