On journalists and the upside/downside risks they face

May 2, 2008 at 6:32 am 3 comments

Sally Saville Hodge

Ever since I first worked with Herb Greenberg way back during our tenures at Crain’s Chicago Business and the Chicago Tribune, I’ve considered him the epitome of what journalists should aspire to: Relentless in pursuit of the next scoop, resourceful in how he goes about getting it, principled in his dealings with sources, and passionate about his calling.

So it was with surprise and some sadness that I heard he was not just leaving MarketWatch, where he cemented his reputation as a leading prognosticator on stocks and the businesses behind them, but he’s leaving journalism all together.

He and I chatted last week about his move, catching up for the first time in a couple of years. He and a friend are launching a boutique research firm. The strength of his brand alone, supported by a highly loyal following, and his partner’s contacts and capabilities as a CPA and terrific modeler should make success a shoo-in.

But he talked about things that business and financial reporters typically save for their copy and don’t normally apply to their careers and futures. Things like the upside and downside risks of taking on an entrepreneurial venture versus sticking with the traditional journalism path.

Who would have thought that journalism would come up short?

It’s not surprising that many of my print journalist friends are similarly feeling angst about their future directions. Their relevance is increasingly in question in an era of fractured media channels, instant news delivery, egalitarian content creation, and a decided shift in trust away from newspapers and magazines toward sources like Wikipedia.

Newspapers are especially hurting in this environment, of course; their general inability to respond effectively to the dramatic changes altering the news landscape is a repeated theme by pundits. Here in Chicago, the financial bleeding is forcing many fine and talented journalists to make decisions sooner than maybe they’d like.

So where’s their future? Good question. Not everyone is going to be able to make the transition, whether to PR agencies (a time-honored move) or to freelance or corporate writing positions or to Web-based venues or to other, more entrepreneurial ventures like Herb’s.

But as they start thinking, like Herb, about upside and downside risks, they need to realize that the risk with the greatest downside lies in standing still.


Entry filed under: Diabloguer.

Who do you trust? A post with a point!

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Frank  |  May 2, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    You’ve touch on a dilemma that’s giving me many sleepless nights. At 54, with more than 30 years of business and financial journalism experience, I find I’m an unwanted commodity. The few trade magazine publishers left in Chicago, after the consolidation that’s gone on in that part of the business, are content to hire editors with 5 to 10 years experience and pay them $35,000 to $50,000. Groups that once had editorial directors to oversee a variety of magazines are deciding they don’t need editorial direction for their pubs and so are eliminating those relatively high-paid positions. Various new Web-related ventures are hiring people with 2-3 years experience or right out of school because they say they’re more tech savvy, but the truth is they pay them even less than trade magazine editors. I find myself painfully under-employed as a managing editor now, wondering how I’ve become irrelevant to my profession even though I’ve been an associate publisher overseeing a magazine, newsletter, Web site, four directories and two trade shows at one point in my career, once ran the Chicago bureau for Knight-Ridder Financial News (now out of business), was the first reporter Reuters hired in Chicago to write full-time about financial futures in the 1980s, and in recent years have overseen numerous Web sites and done all I can to stay up-to-date about changes in how the world is getting its business news. It’s gotten to the point where it’s less painful for me to have a colonoscopy, which I did recently, than to think about the next 10 years of my working life.

  • 2. Edard M. Bury, APR  |  May 2, 2008 at 6:07 pm


    I went right from college to work at City News Bureau. Worked many beats and every shift from 1977 to the end of 1979, when I moved to Pioneer Press. (Not only did I get a raise of perhaps $50 per week, but I finally got a byline.) I’ll always consider myself a newsman first.

    But I’ve moved to public relations and am passionate about this industry, and I hold myself to high ethical standards.

    And, I’m saddened as to what’s happened to journalism and journalists. The retrenchment of “legitimate” news organizations perhaps reflects where we are going as a society, which is spiraling downward in terms of what is significant. People are more concerned with what Paula Abdul wears on a television show than the fact gas costs $4 per gallon. Companies have “head bloggers” on staff. What happened to the title of “writer?”

    Technology has been tremendous in letting people communicate and learn. But it’s allowed too many people too much power to communicate junk.

  • 3. Libby Hellmann  |  May 2, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    This is so timely, Sally. I just read an article in McPaper about the Defense Department setting up their own foreign language “news” websites in Middle Eastern and Third World countries. Who’s going to write the stories, take the photos, edit the sites? Is this an option for journalists leaving the field, or is the propaganda factor too blatant? Is there a legitimate role for efforts like this ? We’ve had VOA for decades… after all. I don’t know the answers, but I’m actually going to muse about it on my blog next Monday. Would love to see you there. (www.theoutfitcollective.com)

    Btw, I’m a former TV news journalist, turned PR person, and no crime fiction writer.


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