Wednesday, October 10, 2007

'Generation U': Why Time Reporters Just Wrote Their Own Career Obituaries

We're still catching up on important news this week, and one of the more interesting tidbits was a recent Women's Wear Daily report saying that Time Inc. print reporters won't be forced to do online work, thanks to a contract clause proposed by the Newspaper Guild.

Apparently, the two parties reached a tentative agreement for a three-year contract that includes guaranteed annual pay raises, and changes to severance packages and other benefits to Guild-protected employees -- but one of the additions is a stipulation that prevents management from demanding that print reporters must write for the Web.

(The magazines under Guild protection include People, Time, Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Sports Illustrated and Money.)

The Editorialiste asks: Can Time Inc. journalists make a bigger mistake?

As Columbia new media spokesman and writing-for-the-web guru Sree Sreenivasan said to me on Monday, "It's backwards. The guild might be making a mistake."

And I couldn't agree more.

Say what you want about new media, generations of journalists and the decline of printed readership, but it's looking to me as if Time Inc. professionals are swimming against the ever-strengthening stream of progress. But that's the obvious take on the news.

What I really want to know is: How exactly is this supposed to mesh with the 84-year-old flagship magazine's attempt to stay relevant in a 24-hour, wired, online news cycle?

When the flagship magazine slims down and takes contract work over full-time salaries, that sends a message that the time of the cubicle-embedded journalist is nearing an end. So when the journalists themselves turn around and say that they don't want to be a part of this "new movement," are they not hypocritical -- and furthermore, writing their own career obits?

It seems to me that this contract is two steps forward, three steps back. For every guaranteed annual raise and benefits package, each journalist is effectively saying, "Keep me comfortable for the rest of my career here, please, at the expense of the publication and my generation." All Time Inc. seems to have to do is wait it out until each journalist drops dead, phasing out the "resistant generation" and gladly handing the iconic magazine over to a new generation of technophiles for which writing for the web is the norm.

Of course, this will all happen, in say, 20 years -- when doing so will seem old hat and fitting of Time's reputation. But is this really the way to conduct business -- leaving (ironically) time to shape a publication and company?

I don't think so. Time Inc. employees, it's time to wise up -- buy yourself a laptop and a digital camera and learn how to do what the rest of the U.S. already does.

The New York Times' Thomas L. Friedman wrote today about "Generation Q" -- a "quiet" generation of idealistic college students who aren't into political or social activism. I beg the question -- are Time Inc. employees a part of journalism's "Generation U" -- Generation Unplug?

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