Wednesday, July 8, 2009
In an Age of "Information Deflation" Do Journalists Deserve Low Pay?
According to Robert G. Picard, they certainly do.
Picard is a professor of media economics in Sweden and the author of innumerable books on how media organizations work, or these days, mostly don't work.
His thoughts on a variation of Marx's labor theory of surplus value, as applied to journalists came at the speech he recent gave in Oxford and republished in the Christian Science Monitor. (Thanks to friend and Ryerson colleague Peter McNelly for pointing it out).
Picard argues that since most journalists don't produce anything of real value for their organizations, they don't deserve their fabulous salaries they have been getting.
Picard has a strongly market-driven approach to media and in some of his work, he’s been very astute about obtaining more value from media organizations. His major contribution, as far as I know, is that he believes that we are in a period of
information oversupply. In order to make media more profitable, media organizations need to produce less content in order to boost the value of the product. But it's hard to imagine that happening in an environment where so much is being pushed to the Internet and away from old media forms.
A study done earlier this year by the French government confirms Picard’s assumptions. It showed that in the last ten years, the sheer volume of information has increased by 30% every year while the number of eyeballs has remained relatively the same and in an increasingly fragmented audience. Picard is right. We are in an age of “information deflation.”
What Picard doesn’t adequately address is the social value of media which he admits can’t be monetized and therefore, would be hard to quantify.
How well have journalists have created profit and value for their employers? Clearly not enough: mass media, in their desperate pursuit of ratings and circulation are leading us in a race to the bottom which only further reduces the social value of journalism. After all, how much Michael Jackson is enough and when is it too much? The fault, dear reader is, as Professor Picard says elsewhere, can be found in the poor business choices made by many media organizations who insist on thinking in non-journalistic ways.
Can we blame the workers at General Motors for the plight of the company? Nor can we blame journalists entirely for the sad state of media.
If news and information should indeed be monetized, then the value for media organizations will be found in returning to (dare I say it?) a more elite view of what citizens need, along with what they want.
There are other factors at play here, including the perilous state of democracy.