Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

What’s holding you back? Trust me, it’s not the money

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 23, 2012

This is my contribution to January’s Carnival of Journalism, this month asking:  “Can a journalist be a capitalist?”

Michael Rosenblum, sometimes controversial and always worth a read, is leading the discussion with his post “How to make millions as a journalist“. He argues that journalists today should make being rich a goal instead of pursuing a myth of martyrdom, sacrificing wealth for the pursuit of the ‘truth’.

I can testify to Michael’s point that without money “you are a perpetual victim, a perpetual employee” – a difficult cycle to escape without a big break or some big balls.  As someone wise once told me, in the last ‘proper’ job I ever had: “you’ll never become a millionaire working for someone else”.

It’s not for everyone I know, but personally, I would love to see more journalists & publishers – especially young ones – breaking free while they can, simply because so many of the hurdles have been removed. And as I’ve said before this window of opportunity won’t last forever. 

Michael is right in lots of ways – but he misses an important point. Yes, journalists shouldn’t shy away from making big bucks. But to do so, you have to be motivated by something more than money.

Taking flight

There’s a well-known story around the invention of the first flying machine 110 years ago. In 1902 there was a race of sorts to build the first ever plane. If you were alive then, you would have put your bets on Samuel Pierpont Langley – he had years of experience, a huge grant from the US War Department and good connections with the most important people in the country. Meanwhile deep in Ohio were Orville and Wilbur Wright, with no money, no contacts and just a few friends to help them out in a small shed.

But they were famously driven by the dream of flight and its potential to change the world. Langley, on the other hand, was in it for the money and the fame. Despite his huge budget he was beaten to the prize in December 1903 when the Wright Brothers made their historic flight. Langley apparently gave up just a short time later.

Wanting to making millions for the sake of it is not a goal.

Journalists shouldn’t be shackled into a lifetime of looking and dressing like Columbo, but in order to break from that we must be driven by something bigger than money. Remember, Steve Jobs wanted to revolutionise the technology industry and even ‘make a dent in the universe’ – that was what got him out of bed, not the money.

You won’t get rich from a hyperlocal blog if your plan is just to sell ads on the site. But if you’re driven by an ambitious dream to make lasting change in your local community and make it a better place to live (and you can inspire others to follow you in that pursuit) …then you’re onto something.

You also won’t make much money setting up a multimedia production company if your plan is just to hire yourself out to whoever needs a video made. But if you get out of bed every day because you really think the industry needs storytellers that give a voice to the voiceless & challenge the mainstream media’s myopic view of the world…then you can achieve big change.

It’s not a fear of making money us lowly hacks suffer from, it’s a fear of big ideas – of what we could really achieve. 

NOTE: Michael has rounded up all the comments from this month’s discussion – there’s a variety of opinions about journalism and business, so it’s worth a read.

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9 Responses

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  1. Auburn Meadow Farm said, on January 23, 2012 at 9:49 am

    Thanks so much. I really appreciate all you share here : )

  2. Mau Fildes said, on January 23, 2012 at 11:43 am

    This is a great post. you always manage to express very well the positives of an alternative journalistic career. I graduate this year as a mature student and have every intention of following my own path. Thank you.

  3. Michael Rosenblum said, on January 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Nice Adam. But let’s not overlook the fact that both Jobs and the Wrights were also excellent businesses people. Wright Aircraft became a major airplane builder and of course Apple we all know as a very tight ship. They were driven by a passion and a vision but they also built and owned businesses that were very successful and that they started from scratch on their own.

  4. westlondontoday said, on January 23, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Every word hit the point. An old lecturer once attempted a news agency definition of journalism, “Journalism is the business of turning information into money.” They (news agencies) probably won’t agree wholeheartedly with him in today’s climate. I agree there is a greater goal which could also lead to one being very well rewarded.

  5. Dani said, on January 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Interesting take. It can’t be *only* for the money, I do agree every entrepreneur should work in their area of passion. But like Michael said, passion doesn’t run a business — which is why many journalists don’t make it as freelance writers — much of the job is selling, etc. and writing is only a small part. Working on your own, I think you need to have an eye on cash flow at all times, even if passion is what gets you out of bed.

  6. Kathy E. Gill said, on January 28, 2012 at 9:24 am

    Love the Wrights Brothers story!

    I also chimed in with the “money cannot be your principle goal” argument. http://wiredpen.com/2012/01/27/carnival-of-journalism-journalists-as-capitalists/

  7. [...] Adam Westbrook checked in from London. Adam is also an entrepreneurial journalist and his perspective was similar to Dave’s.  ” It’s not for everyone I know, but personally, I would love to see more journalists & publishers – especially young ones – breaking free while they can, simply because so many of the hurdles have been removed. And as I’ve said beforethis window of opportunity won’t last forever. [...]

  8. [...] Adam Westbrook checked in from London. Adam is also an entrepreneurial journalist and his perspective was similar to Dave’s.  ” It’s not for everyone I know, but personally, I would love to see more journalists & publishers – especially young ones – breaking free while they can, simply because so many of the hurdles have been removed. And as I’ve said beforethis window of opportunity won’t last forever. [...]

  9. Ben said, on February 1, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Is the UK’s climate and energy secretary Chris Huhne a good example of an entrepreneur journalist? He wrote for several newspapers before starting up a ratings company, which was eventually sold to Fitch and netted him a tidy ‘cushion’ for his political career.


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