Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Wanna Be A Journalist? Prepare For The Online Sweatshop.

The New York Times recently published an article about what new, young, 'Net-savvy journalists face in the industry today: complete web exploitation.

A growing work force of home-office laborers and entrepreneurs, armed with computers and smartphones and wired to the hilt, are toiling under great physical and emotional stress created by the around-the-clock Internet economy that demands a constant stream of news and comment.

Of course, the bloggers can work elsewhere, and they profess a love of the nonstop action and perhaps the chance to create a global media outlet without a major up-front investment. At the same time, some are starting to wonder if something has gone very wrong. In the last few months, two among their ranks have died suddenly.

A young friend of mine is featured as one of these new digital sweatshop employees, so this wasn't news to me. But I (and the Times, apparently) find it to be a growing trend among up-and-coming journalists who know their way around a computer.

"Let 'em blog on the website," a young intern hopes to hear at the Anytown Daily News or National Monthly Magazine. And why not? It's a great way to get clips, and the publication's less-than-Web-savvy staff get to avoid learning anything more about the mysterious Internet, thus keeping their jobs secure. But then the abuse begins.

"Can we put an original picture up with that?" the editor asks. "Can we move that text over here?" "Can't we add a video to that? How about some of that flashy Flash stuff? The big boss really loves that online magic stuff, and will really like this at the meeting today," the editor says, thinking of that raise for "managing the Website." But without any familiarity of how long it takes to do such things -- such as create interactives, log and capture video, and make sure it's all perfect before posting to the Web -- the editor has made our lowly, new, tech-savvy journalist an overworked, underpaid, stressed-out multimedia producer.

And that's where the industry model is right now -- take a look at your favorite blogs. Do a little Google search on the ones that update at a rapid clip. Guess who's manning the keyboard? (Here's a hint: It's not Malcolm Gladwell.)

So when the Times pointed this phenomenon out, it hit the Web by storm. But anyone who knows anyone at Nick Denton's Gawker Media or any competing online-only startup knows that the digital sweatshop has been around for years.

"Well, when I was a young journalist, I had to pay my dues too!" the old editor would say. And that's true -- but something tells me that wasn't on a 24/7/365 publishing cycle.

Tech-savvy readers: Have you been taken advantage of? Let us know anonymously (or not!) in the comments.

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