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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

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.

2 comments:

  1. From Peter McNelly:

    Excellent. Nice post, too. I think the key is to worry less about the economic orientation of the good professor and address his central argument, which I think is similar to but critically different from the question of an oversupply of information.

    The core problem, as Picard notes, is that you can get the same information from too many outlets. So the oversupply is not of the information itself, but the many places one can go to get it. This is why the value of the information that most journalists produce is virtually worthless.

    So, the question is: What types of information will people be willing to pay for? Lots, I suspect. The internet has already proven that there is a market for highly specialized products. Classical music, for example. The traditional distribution model – music stores – would never support the re-issue of the entire Supraphon catalog for the recordings of Karl Ancerl, but the internet can and has.

    Go narrow, go deep, and some people will beat a path to your portal.

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  2. Hello Mister D,

    I met you today when you were conversing with Mr. Koch. You were talking about Israel, Sharon, media. I was blogging about ... Jane Austen, the image of the dark, mysterious stranger in literature and the cultural popularity of teenage vampires!

    Yikes, why couldn't you have caught me blogging about Hemingway and For Whom the Bell Tolls like I was doing last week??

    I hope Mr. K does start a blog - he seems like a fascinating, highly intelligent man with interesting things to say. And that's why I love Toronto - there is such a wide variety of very cool people here.

    I like the look of the blog too and will keep my eye on it. :)

    A presto,
    MA

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