Why I Want to Help the News Industry Survive

by Kat Friedrich

Have you ever realized that you wanted to go against the crowd in your career choices? This month, while corresponding with the other writers in my Clovers mentoring group, I developed a very clear vision of what excites and motivates me. It goes completely counter to conventional wisdom about what works in the writing industry now.

We’ve all heard the rumors: the United States news industry may be dying. I’ve even seen a Facebook page called Newspaper Escape Plan. I was in graduate school studying science and environmental journalism when the layoffs began; the industry has hemorrhaged talented people since the mid-2000s. And unlike the auto industry, we aren’t getting a bailout any time soon.

But despite that grim reality, I sense a glimmer of hope—for myself as a writer, if not for the entire industry.

During and after the recession, I developed a trade specialty. And although I have written some news and blog posts for businesses, most of my work has revolved around a small news site that is now hosted by a major university.

Working on this grant-funded site has taught me the essential skills of managing small news publications—and I have discovered that I love this kind of work. I am fascinated by the new technology and journalistic challenges I encounter. I am dedicated to building the quality of my product and cultivating the craft of our contributing writers. I am interested in both print and digital publications.

I do not want the news industry to go away, trashed by the market forces that motivate people to seek and share low-quality content for free. I believe independent, free speech is a cornerstone of a free society.

I don’t believe the forces shoving former reporters into marketing and public relations roles are aligned with the values that underlie the craft of news production. Unless the organizations they are marketing have research-friendly, open, data-oriented cultures, writers may not be free to ask intelligent questions.

If personal branding requires me to make a choice, I choose reporting, blogging and editing—the road with less traffic. This is not because I dislike marketing communication but because the entire purpose of my writing, the power that makes my stories gel, is based on having a third-party perspective.

In a world that is pushing me toward marketing communication, I want to have a relatively independent voice. I know absolute neutrality is impossible to achieve and values are relative.

If I choose to blog or write web copy for any organization, I want my voice to retain that third-party point of view. Working with research organizations and data-friendly nonprofits would make that easier. I know where my priorities lie. Promotion is an art, but it is not my primary focus. I know who I am and what I do.

I’m a former engineer turned science reporter and editor. My job is to ask questions that go beyond promotion and create fuel for discussion. I have an allegiance to the organizations for which I work, but I also want to help construct a new reality in which the news industry can continue. Beaten and bruised though it may be, I hope the news industry can recover, stand up, and walk forward to document a future of rapidly-changing technology.

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