Bad news, journalists. Tech companies likely aren’t going to save you from your low-paying, high-drudgery jobs at newspapers, magazines, TV channels, radio stations, or blogs. If you’re looking for the easy way out – a fatter pay check, a move to the suburbs, normal working hours – then your best option is still PR.
For half a minute, it looked like that might be changing. Facebook hired a managing editor. IPO-headed Twitter is looking for a head of news. Tumblr launched its own journalism division. Andreessen Horowitz and Sequioa Capital have recruited editors from Wired and the Wall Street Journal. Medium has hired its own editors, too. First Round Capital and WeWork have launched their own online publications.
Jaded journalists, watching the media industry struggle to cope with its crumbling economic fortunes even as the demands of their job intensify, could have been forgiven for eyeing up what for a while looked like a new exit option. The companies listed above can afford to pay real salaries. Their economic fortunes are on the rise, rather than evaporating. They’re offering something like but not quite journalism, but it’s also not quite PR. To some hard-bitten hacks, that must have looked like a fair compromise. If you were a disillusioned journo hoping for a liferaft, there could be worse options.
But those hopes must by now be well and truly fading. Today, Tumblr’s Christopher Price announced that he’s leaving his job as the blogging platform’s editorial director, a role that entailed the manufacturing of many gifs. In his farewell post, he didn’t provide any reasons and said he has no idea what’s next. But the shuttering of Tumblr’s Storyboard project can’t have helped. Journalism and social networks don’t mix. As I’ve said before, a couple of times, you can’t be both a platform and publication. That’s just greedy.
Meanwhile, don’t expect greater things from the new content plays to come out of WeWork’s FullStart, the First Round Review, Sequoia’s Grove, or whatever former Wired editor Michael Copeland comes up with at Andreessen Horowitz. While they will masquerade as independent publications, and, no doubt, publish plenty of quality stories and how-to guides for startups, they will always carry the stench of content marketing.
No matter which way you cut it, these efforts, like Facebook and Tumblr’s before them, are corporate imitations of journalism, not the real thing. If you’ve got a corporate brand attached to your content site, you’re pretty much the Red Bulletin. There’s noting inherently evil about that, but it’s also really no different from going to do PR for someone like, say, Hubspot. Just ask yourself: Is Copeland ever going to write anything negative about Andreessen Horowitz?
(This seems a good time mention our disclosure: Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz is an investor in PandoDaily; so is First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman. Good people of Twitter, commence your howling.)
In general, journalism is a low-paying and intense job. For now, that doesn’t look like it’s going to change. In fact, given that newspapers are either shutting down or being bought by Internet tycoons, things might only get worse.
Those are the reasons why many people think journalism is a young person’s game in the first place. And even then, a lot of young idealistic people enter the field only to be promptly chewed up and spat back out. There has always been this natural weeding out of people who care less about the mission-oriented aspect of journalism and take their perfectly usable skill-sets to other places that need them. Only the obsessive ones – the ones prepared to make financial sacrifices, the ones prepared to suck up the overtime and the angry editors – tend to stay.
If you’re a journalist and don’t fall into that category, I suggest that you cross “tech companies” off your list of potential next career moves. If you aren’t core to the what a company does, you aren’t high on the CEO’s give-a-shit list. Sure, you can take the payday. Just be prepared for a downgrade in self-esteem.