Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Journalists are burned out. Some newsrooms are fighting back.
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Oct. 11, 2013, 12:04 p.m.
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   October 11, 2013

Interesting back and forth around this piece at the Canadian online litmag Hazlitt by Bert Archer. At one level, it’s a common plaint: Online news sites, particularly those on the bloggier end of the spectrum, don’t pay that well. His particular interest is Curbed, the real estate-focused network of sites around the country (and now in Toronto and Vancouver).

So I talked to the editorial director, and she told me what they were offering: $1,500 a month. That included 5-7 stories a day, complete with pictures. Five to seven stories a day, no matter how short, pretty much takes up your day. This means that $1,500 a month has to be at least the lion’s share, if not the entirety of your income. That’s $18,000 a year.

Archer does add one interesting layer to distinguish it from the median piece of this subgenre: Curbed is quite good. It’d be one thing if low pay = low quality, but if low pay = solid-to-better content, there’s a problem, he believes:

… Curbed, precisely because it’s as good as it is, precisely because that takes people who actually know how to write and report, represents something quite dark that may be going on before our eyes. Call it the Cragislisting of journalism.

By which he means the general diminution of value attached to writing and a threat to “all those little bits and pieces of journalism, such as double-sourcing and fact-checking, that ensure the story you tell yourself about the world you live in is one that bears a relationship to the world you actually live in.”

Anyway, probably more interesting is the response from two Curbed types in the comments. Nikki Bayley, who works at an Eater site (Eater is Curbed’s foodie sister):

Just one small but awfully relevant bit of info — that fact-checking, double-sourcing that you wrote about but didn’t quite manage to follow up on yourself. The key thing — in fact the ONLY thing — is that this is gibberish. Sheer hooey. Utter balloon juice. This is a PART TIME gig — and that is what it pays. Frankly if it takes you the best part of a day to source and write six punchy posts then you know what? This was never going to be the job for you. But it works great for me. I get my Eater work done in about 4 hours each day.

And Curbed cofounder Lockhart Steele:

I’m writing these words from our New York City office, where the company employs north of 30 full-time journalists. In addition, Curbed employs full-time editorial staff in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Austin, TX, and Portland, OR. Those are all full-time jobs with health and dental benefits and a company-matched 401(k) plan. And friendly coworkers. And a strong mission.

Curbed’s continued regional expansion has been financed on the back of growth in the business itself. As the company increases its revenues, we increase the amount we’re spending on journalism, and sometimes, when we’re feeling brave, we’ll look to expand to a new market, as we recently did in Canada. (My mom’s from Vancouver, by the by.) The economics of some markets are such that they’ll never garner large enough traffic to warrant a full-time staffer; in other markets, we’ve started with a journalist on a freelance basis and then transitioned them to full-time when the site’s growth warrants it. If we weren’t able to experiment in this way, I doubt we’d have ever been able to grow beyond New York and employ so many writers in so many cities…

It’d be wild if Curbed’s nefarious plan all along was to undermine journalism from the inside, but I’d suggest we’re doing the opposite: growing it and the opportunities for journalists. That our team does such strong work, as you acknowledge, isn’t some accident or accounting trick. It’s because our writers are great. Hard to believe we’d be able to pull that off if we treated them as serfs.

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