Journalism's Descent into Fluff and Folly

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on September 18, 2023

One of the news media types I follow on Twitter/X published a link to a Gannett job posting for a job posting for a "Beyoncé Knowles-Carter Reporter." Talk about a headfirst dive into fluff and folly.

I understand entertainment news and reporting is a thing, even if it isn't my thing, but a having a single celebrity as your entire beat was a new one to me. The job is based at the Nashville Tennesseean, so I guess that makes some sense, but a full-time reporter whose whole job is all things Beyoncé? They want someone with a minimum of five years of experience, you'll apparently get to follow Beyoncé around the country—and maybe the world—since a "willingness to travel extensively" is required.

The pay is pretty good too. You'll get paid hourly between $21.63 and $50.87—I'd certainly hold out to be near the higher end of that range—and you can bet with a lot of traveling, you'll be pulling in some significant OT. That puts your annual salary in the $45,000-$106,000 range, plus benefits.

For those of you who are less Beyoncé and more Taylor Swift, there's a nearly identical Taylor Swift reporting job available too.

A return to daily journalism?

As much as I'd like to return to doing daily journalism, the options for me are few and far between. Absent a billionaire offering me the mid-six figures to pickup and move to Texas, Florida, Tennessee or somewhere similar to participate in a conservative journalism outlet, it's probably not going to happen. I probably wouldn't last a week in one of today's newspaper newsrooms that are far more ideologically rigid and unforgiving than when I last walked the cubicles of one back in 2009.

Just for $#!+$ and giggles, I looked to see if Gannett had any openings at the Visalia Times-Delta, the closest daily newspaper where I currently live which they happen to own. It turns out, they do have an opening for a "Business, Development, Housing and Retail Reporter." Not nearly as glamourous as Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, but it's honest work, right? Unlike the entertainment reporting jobs, they only want a minimum of two (not five) years reporting experience at a "daily newsroom"* and would like you to have a bachelor's or master's degree in communications or journalism—or an equivalent combination of education and experience. So, if you don't have a degree, then you'd need six years of daily "newsroom" experience I'm guessing.

So, not nearly as glamorous, you're living in California, rather than Tennessee, but it's the Central Valley vs. Nashville, so that's maybe mostly a wash on cost of living. What's the pay range for the Visalia reporter gig? $15.50 to $29.30 an hour. For the record, $15.50 is minimum wage in California. That's what you get without a high school diploma asking "do you want fries with that?" at McDonalds. (For now, that may go much higher, soon.) For the main newspaper for a city of approximately 144,000 people and a county of more than 475,000 people, Gannett is willing to shell out between $32,000 and $61,000 a year for a reporter to cover the business beat, but six figures for someone who follows Beyoncé and Taylor Swift around? I understand there's undoubtedly a bigger online market for clicks for the latter, but a little bit of self-respect would be nice too.

As someone who checks out the Times-Delta's website on a regular basis, what they really need are a couple more general assignment reporters, which is probably what this job would turn into just out of necessity. Yeah, you'll hopefully have some time to do deep dives into the lack of affordable housing in the area, but really, you'll be spending a lot of time doing the crime, city hall, school board and planning commission reporting that needs to be done too.

It's a sad statement about the state of local journalism, but this is where we are. Without question, the most mundane story about Beyonce or Taylor Swift will generate many orders of magnitude more clicks than whatever story the business reporter in Visalia turns up, no matter how newsworthy, shocking or impactful. I understand that, but I don't have to like it.

I'm skeptical that there's a way to "fix" this. If there were, I could probably make a small fortune selling it to newspapers near and far.

*You can see from this term "daily newsroom" that there's a failure to adapt to the modern news cycle. Whoever wrote this job posting is probably an old dinosaur like me. They originally wanted "daily newspaper" experience, but newspapers aren't as much of a thing nowadays. As I was saying nearly two decades ago, too many in the news media were focusing on the newspaper rather than the newspaper. What they want is someone with experience writing and producing content on deadline. That used to mean daily newspapers. Nowadays, that means publishing breaking, constantly updated stories on Twitter/X and newspaper websites. Some old fogeys are still stuck in the past.




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September 2023



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