A couple of days ago I was sitting in the office of an industrial relations expert, conducting an interview for my new radio show. I was trying to draw a closer connection between research and reality, and, so, I was hypothesising one. To my wonderment, she prefaced her answer with; “you know, I might write something on this”.
The key here: she has a blog.
The Internet has done a lot of things to many aspects of our society, but perhaps nothing more profound than removing the middle. In segment after segment, the Internet is creating clear winners and losers, superstars separate from the morass. A gigantic gap looms between.
This is possibly most clear when it comes to musicians – there is a massive gap between the few who generate large sums through streaming and concerts and those who don’t. But unbundling the album not only removed the business model of many artists in the middle, it made it harder to break through. It’s harder to become a superstar by creating a small cult following, living off and building that. It’s more binary.
But this is happening in journalism as well.
It used to be that journalists were the gatekeepers. Armed with the practical skills to tell stories, some knowledge of their beat and some sources, they could scale the ivory towers and get to the experts. Think of it like a funnel – you pour in all that information and get something manageable at the other end.
But journalists no longer have exclusive access to these sources. They aren’t the gatekeepers anymore. My industrial relations expert is perfectly capable of reaching a sizeable audience entirely by herself. She isn’t alone – there’s now a well established ecosystem of economists with blogs and huge Twitter followings. Further, many are perfectly happy contributing their thoughts to mainstream publications, without pay. And this isn’t the only profession breaking free. The experts have escaped the tower.
The ability to tell stories isn’t in shortage either, anymore. Sure, as with anything, some are better than others. But we’ve now seen billions of people spend years on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram; working across media and with the same goal as any journalist – communicate, engage, grow audience. Some are very good, and many don’t want or need to be paid.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, as I cast around for new opportunities. There’s no middle left in journalism. There’s a clear bottom – newsrooms seemed to be filled with jobs requiring little thought, centred around ripping “reactions” from social media or rewriting press releases. There’s also a clear superstar rank – the top journalists get paid handsomely for their talents, are given the opportunity to show off their brains and ideas.
But, just as with music, there’s very little middle. There’s little for those that are “too smart” or want to do more than repackage tweets. There’s little room left for those who are just starting out, who may have some skills but still need polishing, for whom speaking to experts was a good way to build standing to reach the top.
As with music, there are still journalists who catapult to superstar status. But the path is vague and ever changing, several of the rungs missing. The question is, how do you work your way up an industry with no middle?