This week multiple high-profile media companies announced major layoffs, leaving many journalists unemployed. HuffPost cut out its entire opinion section and many staff, BuzzFeed let go fifteen percent of its workforce and Gannett thinned out newsrooms across the country.
Conversations online regarding the industry revolve around whether or not the business model for media is sustainable in our era of social media and Google. Among the advocation for unionizing media professionals, many are emphasizing that uneven up flow of profits to the corporate media masters creates an environment that would rather dispose of talent than cut their bottom line.
As usual, I find myself agreeing. Unions are good and the inequality of profit distribution is bad. However, they may be another problem that those in media have not considered: the cost of operating in media hubs.
Yesterday freelance journalist Luke O’Neil asked on Twitter why major media companies *have* to be located in hub cities like NYC? I have often wondered this same thing. I clicked on his tweet to read the replies and almost instantly found myself frustrated and angry.
Many of the replies gawked at the idea of a major media company operating out of Detroit or Columbus as O’Neil had proposed. They proposed this could never work because they would not be able to recruit top tier talent. These people, like the media companies they are defending, need to step out of their bubble for moment.
I argue that by setting up shop outside of New York, D.C., or Los Angeles that major news companies can attract more top talented writers and maintain their talented staff much longer than it seems they can now. I’ll go one step further and suggests that by placing their headquarters in anywhere but the main hubs for media that they will discover an untapped market of diverse and extremely talented journalist.
Not everyone lives in NYC, LA, or DC. In fact a majority of the country live pretty far from them. More importantly not everyone can afford to move to either one of these locations on the average journalist salary. Unfortunately this limits the talent pool by a large fraction and consequently limits the style and perspective of the content they are producing. I grew up dreaming of becoming a journalist. I love media and journalism, and I would still love to work full-time in the profession one day. However, I know that dream is unattainable. I am married with two children. My family cannot pick up and move from Mississippi to New York City so I can become a journalist for The Nation or Teen Vogue (just throwing those out at random), but I could move to New Orleans or Memphis.
How could a major media company cover national politics and corporate finance in Jackson, Mississippi? Easy. We live in the technology age. You can conduct interviews by email, phone, Skype, text etc. You can request records online from almost anywhere. Most editors already have a deep, well-established Rolodex that can sit on any desk in any state and have the same efficiency. If you have to travel, the rest of the country does have airports, even international ones!
Seriously, there is no good reason to base your company in an overinflated real estate zone with big, fancy offices and a staff that either resided near your location or had financial means (i.e. mom and dad’s money) to move there. There is big world out where news and stories flow to from these major sites. But are they really able to tap into the country’s pulse and claim they cannot be successful living in it? We are in a time of massive, growing income inequality and the “American Dream” is becoming more unobtainable by the day, if not nearly completely obsolete.
The idea of moving to Manhattan to pursue a lifelong dream is no longer a goal for extremely talented people. They are just trying to survive the crushing weight of capitalism. It’s time to burst the media bubble and the way we look at talent and success. Media should unionize, relocate, and reflect to us that they actually understand the problems the are paying writers to tell us about.