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.