Journalists like to think of their work in moral or even sacred
terms. With each new layoff or paper closing, they tell themselves
that no business model could adequately compensate the holy work of
enriching democratic society, speaking truth to power, and
comforting the afflicted.
Actually, journalists deserve low pay.
Wages are compensation for value creation. And journalists simply
aren't creating much value these days.
Until they come to grips with that issue, no amount of blogging,
twittering, or micropayments is going to solve their failing
Where does value come from?
Moral philosophers differentiate intrinsic and instrumental
value. Intrinsic value involves things that are good in and of
themselves, such as beauty, truth, and harmony. Instrumental value
comes from things that facilitate action and achievement, including
awareness, belonging, and understanding. Journalism produces only
instrumental value. It is important not in itself, but because it
enlightens the public, supports social interaction, and facilitates
Economic value is rooted in worth and exchange. It is created
when finished products and services have more value - as determined
by consumers - than the sum of the value of their components.
To comprehend journalistic value creation, we need to focus on
the benefits it provides. Journalism creates functional, emotional,
and self-expressive benefits for consumers. Functional benefits
include providing useful information and ideas. Emotional benefits
include a sense of belonging and community, reassurance and
security, and escape. Self-expressive benefits are provided when
individuals identify with the publication's perspectives or
opinions, or when they're empowered to express their own ideas.
These benefits used to produce significant economic value. Not
today. That's because producers and providers have less control over
the communication space than ever before. In the past, the
difficulty and cost of operation, publication, and distribution
severely limited the number of content suppliers. This scarcity
raised the economic value of content. That additional value is gone
today because a far wider range of sources of news and information
The primary value that is created today comes from the basic
underlying value of the labor of journalists. Unfortunately, that
value is now near zero.
The total value is the value of content plus the value of
advertising. However, advertisers don't care about journalism - only
the audience that it produces. Thus the real measure of journalistic
value is value created by serving readers.
What are journalists worth?
Economic outcomes have traditionally held low priority for
journalists. That's got to change.
Journalists are not professionals with a unique base of knowledge
such as professors or electricians. Consequently, the primary
economic value of journalism derives not from its own knowledge, but
in distributing the knowledge of others. In this process three
fundamental functions and related skills have historically created
economic value: Accessing sources, determining significance of
information, and conveying it effectively.
Accessing sources is crucial because information and knowledge do
not exist as a natural resource that merely has to be harvested. It
must be constructed by someone. The journalistic skill of
identifying and reaching authorities or others who construct
expertise traditionally gave journalists opportunities to report in
ways that the general public could not.
Determining significance has been critical because journalists
sort through an enormous amount of information to find the most
significant and interesting items for consumers.
Effective presentation involves the ability to reduce information
to its core to meet space and time requirements and presenting it in
an interesting and attractive manner. …