Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Report From the Buggy Whip Industry

A sign of the times in the buggy-whip manufacturing industry also known as "print journalism": the Christian Science Monitor, one of the best newspapers in the country, has ceased publishing its weekday edition and nobody outside the industry seems to notice, or give a damn.

My alma mater Business Week, meanwhile, seems destined for another round of layoffs, after a much-lamented round of firings late last year that deprived the magazine of some of its best people.

Yep, what we have here is beginning to resemble the buggy whip industry. Just yesterday I was cleaning out my closet and I cut my hand on an early memento of the news biz--an actual "spike" from my very first job, at the Hartford Courant. The spike was used to stick news copy that was no longer needed, or some such purpose. At the Courant we used manual typewriters, and transmitted copy to the main office via teletypes that now can be found at the Smithsonian.

The only thing that has changed is the pay for newcomers to the buggy whip industry. It's gone from bad to unspeakable.

Adjusted for inflation, my $170 a week starting pay (no state income taxes at the time), is $630 or so today, and a good deal more when the tax situation is factored in. Some interns today are paid a big fat nothing. That's progress, I guess. After all, a starting journalism job is an investment in the future of a dying industry. Think of all the colorful stories beginners today can tell their grandchildren--if they can afford to have any kids themselves.

UPDATE: And the beat goes on, as Herb Greenberg would have put it, as (gulp) Portfolio feels the crunch.

© 2008 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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