Journalists are dropping off like flies not only in America but in Britain too. The Guardian has a whole section on the media downturn, recording the toll taken by falling circulations and advertising revenues on newsrooms across Britain and America. Latest to be let go are the Telegraph’s literary editor Sam Leith and literary columnist AN Wilson.
Leith is putting on a brave face, writing on the First Post tongue-in-cheek:
But it’s no joke either for the newspapers or the people they are letting go: they all face an uncertain future.
There is a historical parallel, however, to what’s happening today -– and it goes all the way back to the 18th century.
Adam Gopnik draws the parallel in the New Yorker, writing about the great man of letters, Dr Samuel Johnson:
He had the misfortune to have arrived in London in a time not unlike this one, with the old-media dispensation in crisis and the new media barely paying. The practice of aristocratic patronage, in which big shots paid to be flattered by their favourite writers, was ebbing, and the new, middle-class arrangement, where plays and novels could command real money from publishers, was not yet in place. The only way to make a living was to publish, for starvation wages, in the few magazines that had come into existence. Johnson worked as a miscellaneous journalist, carrying his clips around and begging for assignments. In his first years, he wrote translations from the French and from the classics, brief popular lives of military men, and pamphlets mocking the government. Then he found work as an all-purpose rewrite man at the Gentleman’s Magazine. He always remembered how grateful he was to find an inn where he could get a decent meal for half a shilling.
Johnson, however, like a smart entrepreneur, found fame and fortune by starting his own project -– his famous dictionary, says Gopnik.
Similarly, some old print journalists have found success in the new media. Nick Denton of Gawker Media and ex-Financial Times is a notable example.