Short Take: 1000 Journalists Named Timmy

We need reporters. Without them, we’re blind as to what’s happening in the world writ large. Or not writ at all, which is the problem. But with dead-tree media dying (if not dead and now searching the nation in search of brains that taste like, well, I defer to Slate on this one) and online media replete with minimum-wage earners explaining a world they can’t begin to grasp, where will the next generation of journalists come from?

Google’s got you covered.

Many local newsrooms have been cut to the bone so often that there’s hardly any bone left. But starting early next year, some may get the chance to rebuild, at least by one.

On Monday, a new project was announced at the Google News Lab Summit that aims to place 1,000 journalists in local newsrooms in the next five years. Report For America takes ideas from several existing organizations, including the Peace Corps, Americorps, Teach for America and public media.

The problem, of course, isn’t that J-Schools aren’t churning out grads with the passion to crank out news stories, but that newsrooms eventually have to pay them because they get hungry. Every friggin’ day.

Unlike foreign or domestic service programs or public media, however, RFA gets no government funding. But they are calling RFA a national service project. That might make some journalists uncomfortable  – the idea of service and patriotism, said co-founder Charles Sennott, founder and CEO of the GroundTruth Project. But at its most fundamental, local journalism is about protecting democracy, he said.

Damn straight. Except, you know, when journalism is all about informing the public about the truth, as opposed to the facts. Not that anybody would want “protecting democracy” to further a righteous agenda or anything.

“This program will not succeed unless the reporters are doing really good work,” he said. “It can’t just be a nice thing for the reporters.”

If not a “nice thing” for reporters, then what?


Pocketbook and soul

There’s really two crises in journalism right now, Waldman said – “a crisis of the pocketbook and a crisis of the soul.”

That could be interpreted more than a few ways, so what exactly are they paying for here?

Not to say that serving in a local newsroom will be guaranteed to be especially uplifting. Newsrooms are wonderfully cynical, beautifully curmudgeonly places, full of people that are resistant to anything that’s too shiny and new, he said.

That’s a good thing.

Beautifully curmudgeonly places. That is a good thing.

22 thoughts on “Short Take: 1000 Journalists Named Timmy

      1. wilbur

        His brother Wilbur?

        I have a lifelong friend, a reporter and columnist in the newspaper business for 40 years, now retired. He predicted several years ago that the internet would kill the newspaper business (and the jobs related to it) when the newspapers started published online editions for free: “Why buy the cow when you get the milk for free?”.

        1. SHG Post author

          When we were limited to dead tree papers, our sources were limited to locals. If you lived in Detroit, you couldn’t get the Star Ledger delivered in time for your morning coffee, so they held de facto monopolies for both news and advertising. With the net, every paper anywhere was suddenly available, and the business model was eyeballs, not subscriptions, so the more pageviews, the better the ad rate. There was nothing newspapers could do to stop it, and outside of a small number of very big soapboxes, like the New York Times and WaPo, there was no chance of sustaining a subscription model. And as advertisers realized their ad dollars weren’t giving them the ROI they desired, the numbers there fell as well.

          Until one day, there were be no one left but the Timmys.

          1. B. McLeod

            The dead tree distribution model was also a problem. “Independent contractors” (often kids) would throw the damned things from a moving car or bicycle. I got tired of walking down to the curb in the morning (when they didn’t manage to throw it in the middle of the intersection or down the storm drain).

            1. wilbur

              Are there still kids delivering papers? Where I have lived for 30 years (South Florida) I haven’t seen a kid delivering a newspaper since I moved here. But the fact that the 2 local papers are both morning papers may have something to do with that.

              I haven’t seen kids playing neighborhood pickup baseball in many years. Hell, I haven’t seen kids just “playing outside” like we used to in forever. Things that when you’re a kid you just accept as a natural part of life. The changes in our lives and culture are inevitable yet unpredictable.

            2. B. McLeod

              Once it became “politically incorrect” (and apparently unnecessary) for parents to provide their children any training of any kind, my tolerance for exposure to kids has been reduced to seconds.

            3. SHG Post author

              While “children should be seen but not heard” might have been a bit too stifling, now they never shut up and you can’t make them.

  1. Jake

    I crossed paths with Charles Sennott on a project a few years back and the impression he left on me was that of a true believer in journalism. Although he was an exec at Global Post he eschewed the big office so he could be closer to his team. He also kept a flack jacket and helmet in his office so he could run off cover conflict, which he did quite often. During editorial meetings, he always fought hard against succumbing to the pressure to sensationalize headlines or make clickbait social posts to drive traffic.

    If you’re seeing ‘truth’ and WGBH in the same sentence and thinking ‘snowflake!’ I encourage you to look harder. I think you’d appreciate him.

  2. Charles

    They have the power to fix the crisis of the pocketbook but would never do it. Stop hiring j-school grads, who invariably have huge school loans to pay off. Instead, only hire undergrads who can afford to be a journalist because they don’t have that second school bill to pay off.

    “But, but, she went to J-School, she’s a better candidate.” “Yeah, but he is just as qualified and doesn’t have a house payment with no house, so he’ll be with us a long time at a livable salary.” “But she took advanced inverted-pyramid writing.” “Fine. But she’ll leave in two years when she can’t afford to eat on this salary.”

        1. SHG Post author

          Not even sure of that. The old BA required you to read classic literature and be capable of rational critical thought.

  3. Frank

    What bothers me is that the corporation that forgot “Don’t Be Evil” and has decided that video bloggers of a certain political bent don’t need monitization, are now providing reporters to newsrooms.

    This isn’t out of the goodness of their greedy corporate hearts.

  4. Matthew S Wideman

    “Report For America takes ideas from several existing organizations, including the Peace Corps, Americorps, Teach for America and public media”. My mother taught 35 years in the St. Louis Public Schools and has had 50+ teach for America idealists. By and large they are idealists young kids who have no idea about the grit and hard work it takes to get a job done
    furthermore, most of their idealism goes out the door when they realize teaching is a lifetime commitment, not something you do before you meet a rich guy and get married. I suspect Report for America will have the same short comings when the idealism ends and the reality begins.

Comments are closed.