SPEAKING OF NEWSPAPERS: New journalism model threatens old labor modelIn many industries, labor and benefits are among the highest costs, and the news business is no exception.
In many industries, labor and benefits are among the highest costs, and the news business is no exception. They pose a particular challenge for newspapers, where workers tend to be unionized — versus TV, radio and the Internet — where they largely are not.
One frequent request the Telegram receives is to cover weekend events, and labor costs factor into our reply. We have a contract with reporters that stipulates higher weekend pay. It’s fair to say that on any given Saturday or Sunday, our labor costs exceed what’s paid by local competitors. So we’re somewhat selective when scheduling weekend shifts.
Internet competition heightens the challenge. Every day, we see more blogs and news sites that, in our industry, pose a challenge that’s the equivalent of cheap overseas labor. Now surfacing in our market is the offshoot of a concept dubbed “MoJo,” an acronym for “mobile journalist.” It became the subject of a 2005 Gannett Co. experiment at the Fort Meyers’ News-Press. It employed trained journalists as MoJos who chased and filed micro news throughout the community. According to one trade press account, they filed live Internet tidbits about everything from car accidents to cats in trees.
A February 2006 article in the Fort Meyers newspaper explained that a key responsibility of MoJos was to “spend half their time recruiting and training contributors.” You can guess how much these MoJo offshoots, called “citizen journalists,” were paid, if anything.
The situation even has surfaced within the freelance industry, which is notoriously hand-to-mouth. A Duluth native who had worked for years as an independent contractor for Reuters’ bureau in Manhattan recently gave up. He loved the freedom of selecting assignments, but the freelance business became a desperate race to the bottom. Bids on specific assignments kept diving lower and lower until he no longer could compete against hoards of young persons who worked on the cheap by sharing an apartment with six others.
A frequent cry throughout the region is the lack of jobs that pay sufficient income to support a family. These are the types of changing economic factors that fuel this demon. Not only are technology and free trade changing the business world, but the entire employment model.
Here and elsewhere, newspapers and their employees are struggling with this new challenge. Change is never easy. But like a freight train, it can’t be stopped.