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December 10, 2010

11

I’ve seen the future of journalism

by Deena Winter

Quite simply, I’m stunned.
When I started this blog a couple of months ago, I didn’t know where I was headed or how I would get there.
I still don’t, actually.
But I’m amazed at all the people who are ready to help me get there. I’m also amazed at how many people have found me here in the blogosphere – it’s a weird Web world when one unpaid blogger can generate nearly the same amount of traffic on stories she generated while working for the only newspaper in town.
I know exactly how many hits my “top stories” drew while working for the Lincoln Journal Star, and I know how many hits my stories here are getting, and let me tell you this, we are almost at the same level already, just a few months in, with no advertising other than a couple of guest appearances on Jack & John’s radio show and a story in Buy Lincoln (with more to come).
The only place I’ve advertised is Facebook – and I’m now a believer in the power of social networking.
I’m also a believer in you, my readers, who have astounded me. So far, I’ve had a reader offer to sell ads for me – for free. I’ve had a reader offer to take photos for me – for free. I’ve had a reader offer to write stories from Washington, D.C., for me – for free. I’ve had prominent elected officials tell me “thank you” for writing these stories that would go untold.
But most of all, I’ve had readers interested enough to check out the blog every day. Truthfully, I didn’t know if anyone would be able to find the blog – but they have. Every day, more people are signing up for e-mail subscriptions, which alert them every time I post a blog. I haven’t started tweeting, but I’m thinking I probably should.
I’ve also been asked to be a regular guest on Fridays on KLIN’s Drive Time Live, talking about my blog and other blogs, which I will start doing today.
Now I think I understand why newspapers are cutting, cutting, cutting: If one unpaid blogger can scoop a newspaper with dozens of reporters, imagine what a full-fledged nonprofit news website could do? I’m a newspaper lover, but I hate the fact that we have to mow down forests full of trees to print papers every day. I look forward to the day when newspapers are mostly online – but I know online papers won’t be able to support the kind of staffing that is now paid for with print advertising.
I’ve always been of the opinion that the Brave New World of journalism won’t kill newspapers, but I believe eventually, newspapers will be all online, and there will be fewer reporters then.
It’s already happening. When I left my job, a colleague and friend told me about a content mill that I could write stories for. It’s called Demand Studios – and basically they pay like $7.50 to $30 per story. Go to journalismjobs.com and you’ll see these big ads for Demand Studios. There are still journalism jobs out there, too, but not as many, and Demand Studios and other content mills seem to have the money to buy the biggest ads.
But what’s different is Demand Studios is hiring freelance writers to write about topics readers have inquired about on sites like about.com and livestrong.com.
You go to this website where they’ve got thousands of story ideas, you pick one and write it up. It gets edited by another freelance copy editor, and if you do it according to their somewhat rigid style, you get paid. Quickly, into a Paypal account.
But they’re paying peanuts for these stories, and lots of out-of-work journalists are doing them.
This journalist who referred me to Demand Studios said he made about $30,000 in 18 months, just writing these stories on the side of his full-time job. I don’t know how in the world you could make that much money doing it, unless you’re writing a lot of them off the top of your head — which a lot of their writers seem to do.
I got approved to be a writer, but I’ll be damned if I could find a single story I wanted to write for them. They were the most obscure, weird stories I’ve ever seen. And if I ever felt like a person on an assembly line while working for a newspaper, this was worse. If only they could get a computer to write the stories for them – well, they’re getting close.
And yet, if you go to journalism websites looking for jobs, these are the biggest dogs out there hiring.
I’ve seen the future of journalism, and it is scary.

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11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paige Namuth
    Dec 10 2010

    People who can see the future are supposed to try to prevent the future. Don’t expect to be popular with your prophetic mind.

    Reply
  2. Ten Mile
    Dec 10 2010

    Within which entry you’ve encapsulated a business model for the future newspaper: Stringers; pay for click through’s; and a hundred other ways of creating banners.

    You’ve only missed the negatives: no SS payments or health payments or huge building costs or paper and inks and, dare one say it, deadlines. No political permissions needed; no parties to attend.

    There are several of left and right wings out there surviving in the new modes. Locals will have to survive with less money, staff, and impact.

    Reply
  3. Gordon Winters
    Dec 10 2010

    Enough with the hyperventilating about the future of journalism. You are trading on years of exposure at the LJS — not to mention years of training in a professional news organization. I suspect that has a great deal to do with why your blog has become quickly popular, and why you are able to chase a story. The trouble with blogs is that any rube with a flair for writing can turn out interesting reading. But it might be half tripe and concoction. You’re not in that category, of course. But without earned credibility, how would a reader know whether a blogger is worth reading. It will be interesting to see what happens to your hits in the future. You going to report when the hits reach the inevitable plateau?

    Reply
  4. J. Brown
    Dec 10 2010

    WOW Mr. Winters, as a journalist you should be thanking Deena for doing such an excellent job getting to the real truth out!!! You sound very bitter….so much so, I may cancel my subscription to LJS and pass the word to others who follow Deena’s blog! Get off you high horse and put your reporters to work actually doing some unbiased real stories uninfluenced by the powers that be who run everything in this city!!
    Any credibility was her own, and I hardly think it had anything to do with LJS. Deena, your following will only increase by leaps and bounds!!!
    Oh by the way Mr. Winters check your grammar before you post…see your last sentence. “You going to report when the hits reach the inevitable plateau?”

    Reply
  5. El Guapo
    Dec 11 2010

    This is great. They are going to open a new store, Trader Joes ! Wait till Lincolnites hear about this !!!
    Hope that they will open a new watering hole too . . . . . Trader Vic’s. Me and Gordo can go for brewsky ( or appletini ).
    Well unless he has reached an LJS rockin plateau. Hmmmmm ?

    Reply
  6. Strictly Upper Crust
    Dec 11 2010

    Gordon – you breathin rareified air my man? Look at the creativity in this site. Look at the information load.Feel the vitality of a journalist unleashed from the rigor (mortis) of the Journal Star. Rmember when we had two papers – the Linocln Star that was new and exciting each day. Then they let go of Bob Schrepf. And now we have, well we know what have.

    Here’s the Dare G-man. Contract back with Freelance DW (aka Deena Winter) to do a weekly column. Does LJS have enough courage (or integrity for that matter) to have an independent voice featured ???

    Reply
  7. Fletch
    Dec 11 2010

    If that was really a post by Gordon Winters, my only response is wow. Just wow. “Bitter, party of one!”

    Reply
  8. Gordon Winters
    Dec 13 2010

    Let me be clear. I think Deena is a great journalist, and I like her. My diatribe is aimed at the idea that the lone blogger is the future of journalism. Not gonna happen. If that sounds bitter, it’s only the bitter truth.

    Reply
  9. Dec 13 2010

    Hey, “Dad.” (Everybody thought Gordon was my dad when I worked at LJS.) I’m not trying to say a lone blogger is the future of journalism. I’m concerned when I see content mills running the biggest ads on journalismjobs.com and Huffington Post being one of the best-read blogs in the world, but I still believe traditional news outlets (newspapers leading the way) will provide news, except mostly online at some point. I believe there will be fewer journalists employed when that happens, but maybe more of them will do what I’m doing: go it alone. And hopefully make a living at it.

    Reply
  10. Paul " Mike" Grieger
    Dec 13 2010

    Good Job Deena! Many companies have sold their aircraft because of the economy. Some have sold their aircraft because of “appearances”. Us Bank sold their plane and is now a Buffet’s net jet customer. I am sure some government agency will follow-up on the tax liability on the loaned jet trip.

    Reply
  11. Dec 14 2010

    Enjoy your blog Deena- especially your coverage of The Lincoln Boondoggle (new Arena).

    Maybe we can link our blogs and- with other like bloggers- become a regional news powerhouse unbeholden to special interests.

    Oh- as for ads- I’ve voved NOT to carry advertising UNLESS I use the product and/or service and personally endorse/believe in it.

    CERTAINLY no annoying popups! 😉

    Best to you and yours- a Very Merry and a Happy New 365 Days…

    “Groucho”

    Reply

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