Thursday, July 8, 2010

Should Independent Journalists Join Forces and Model Themselves After Law Firms?

Instead of clamoring for one of the last remaining jobs at a conventional media organization -- for long hours and low pay -- should you collaborate with other out-of-work writers, reporters, editors, photojournalists and videojournalists, and form the journalism equivalent of a law firm?

That's the intriguing proposal on the table from Michael Rosenblum, continuing our online conversation regarding the financial future of journalism.

Though we admire Adam Westbrook's e-book, "Next Generation Journalist," we wondered outloud whether it's realistic to expect overloaded reporters -- who are already shouldering multiple tasks once performed by their exiled colleagues -- to re-fashion themselves as entrepreneurs.

Perhaps it's asking too much for someone who's talented at interviewing and crafting prose narratives to now shoot and edit video stories. Add to that a new requirement that they be able to independently promote, advertise, market and sell their services, and we wonder if there are enough hours in the day for these superhuman endeavours. Besides, the traits that make great journalists are not necessarily those that make great businesspeople.

(If you need to catch up on the conversation, start here and here.)

We postulated that the best bet for independent journalists is to form teams, partnerships, and collectives to pursue projects that enable each participant to play to his particular strength. That makes more sense to us than to expect them to absorb skills taught at business schools.

In his latest blog post, "Entrepreneurial Journalism: How To Make It Work," Rosenblum argues that, instead of contrasting J-school grads with MBAs, perhaps we should be comparing them, in personality and temperament, to law school grads. "In many ways it’s a similar career: research, investigations, analysis and presentation." Many journalists and lawyers, he notes, are similarly driven by a sense of social justice. It's just that lawyers have figured out how to make big bucks in the process.

The difference between lawyers and journalists is the way that they have elected to organize their own profession.

Journalists end up working as employees for someone else, and are thus forever victims of the vicissitudes of the marketplace and changing technologies.

Lawyers tend to organize themselves in partnerships in which they pool their skills and their business.

A law firm hires its talents out to many clients. A Journalism Firm (to craft an interesting idea) would do the same. A partnership of journalists would contract with various magazines, newspapers, television stations and websites to offer content, as a law firm offers work. In this way, they would also be insulated from the predictable disaster if one newspaper or one magazine went under.
Rosenblum fleshes out his "Journalism Firm" concept here. Go take a look and see what you think. Is this a sustainable career model? Might it work for you? We're eager to hear your thoughts.


Brandon G. said...

Rosenblum makes a great point, and I think we already have proof that this type of business model is sustainable. For example, on a general basis, every news wire agency works on this type of basis, except with a middleman that allocates assignments to their clients. But more specifically, you have photo agencies like VII and NOOR that are exactly like what you and Rosemblum have prescribed; a collaboration between a few skilled photographers to charge high-dollar for their stylish content.

But those two agencies are like the "Gucci" and "Armani" of the wire service market and I have yet to see local systems set up this way. I think because of the success we see from those two companies, it is very well likely that more "firms" could thrive in these times.

Prof. Ken Kobre said...

Brandon: Most photo agencies are collections of independent photogs who fly solo, not collaboratively. We're thinking more of small teams of specialists who could draw upon each other's strengths to create projects that would benefit from the input of multiple individuals. A closer model might be Brian Storm's MediaStorm, in that they self-generate projects, and also selectively accept work for hire, as a team.