Or “Painokoneet Seis – kertomuksia uuden journalismin ajasta” it is called in Finnish. A very good book everybody working in the present media scene should read. Written by journalist Johanna Vehkoo during her two year leave of absence in Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford and published couple of months back (by Teos).
Seriously, if you work in the media or you are at all interested where our media is heading – or more maybe where it is NOT heading – and what are the choices or what might be the smartest thing to do right now, you really should read this.
Lots of the things she discusses are the same themes you have been reading on the pages of e.g. this blog – and elsewhere – during the past couple of years. But it is more the way how she just wraps it up, in very clear Finnish, in a very concise manner and makes it pretty obvious that the present model is just not working – and you are stupid if you do not see and acknowledge this.
That the road chosen by the traditional publishing houses simply just repeats all the mistakes committed elsewhere.
Being a Photographer
If you are a photographer, I don’t think you have had a chance of NOT understanding by now that something is totally wrong – I mean: wrong beyond photography, beyond the image business we used to work in. Writers still might choose to stick their head into the bush, fall into denial and pretend nothing is going on (btw, kind of scary if professional journalists choose to do that, don’t you think? The watchdogs of our society…?) But for us – visual professionals – that is no more an option.
I give you quickly two examples on the recent developments which have caught my eye lately:
- Turun Sanomat is trying to get rid of 30 out of their 35 person staff in their picture dept. Tietokuva. Leaves them the chief pic. editor, shop-steward (pääluottamusmies) who cannot be fired legally and three secretaries… which is just barely enough to handle the telephone booking service of this quality newspaper to freelancers 24/7 (à 5€ /hour – or couple of movie tickets in exchange of these quality images…? ;-) )
- Now that Sanoma News is getting rid of their excess of staff, doesn’t it strike you a bit odd that Ilta-Sanomat will have less photographers in their payroll as they do have editors-in-chief? Would be funny… if it were not so bloody sad.
I mean surely they do know what they are doing and that is the correct solution… ? When all the research published lately points to the fact that the future is visual (let me refer here e.g. to the one published in Tampere University about a week ago on – which I probably will discuss in my next post) .
And what does the legacy print do? A logical answer for the visual demand of the future? Right: more guys-in-ties for the business or cheap hacks to produce more text… makes total sense, right?
Yet, this is happening.
A Glimpse of Reality
I have to tell a brief anecdote of a friend of mine (a photographer in HS) told me the other day. A routine gig he was about to go and shoot – something you do daily, sometimes several times a day, day in day out.. The editor decides to give a bit of extra briefing… then another one jumps in… then another…
My friend told me he counted 11 people around him giving instructions of how he should do his image (one image, btw)… until he just politely left to do his work and let the guys-in-ties continue their visions of how it should be done.
Again: this should be funny… but I just find it very sad: these guys were serious, they really did not know what their role in the organization was – or was supposed to be – didn’t have a clue as what to do…. so when given an opportunity to actually do something – i.e. give advice, to have influence – they jumped right at it.
And maybe that says something about the organization – about any organization which behaves this way: if there is time and room for eleven guys-in-ties spend their time in the morning to tell a seasoned visual professional as how to take one picture … maybe – just maybe – there is something worth reconsidering in the organizational structure. Or is it just me…? ;-)
As I got into telling anecdotes, let me share one more. One which made my heart miss a beat the other day…
A Second Opinion on the Future
One of the best parts of being a photographer is that one meets interesting and intelligent people and gets to know their views – in a sort of informal way. On the side, so to speak. “You are photographer, you are not journalist, you are potentially harmless…” they seem to think, so they quite often speak very directly if you ask the right questions.
The other day I happened to talk to somebody (I would mention his name, but I promised not to) while shooting him for an interview. A veteran of newspaper business, an editor-in-chief, a highly respected and seasoned professional. Definitely more experienced than e.g. the present leadership of some of our biggest publishers.
There is one question which has been haunting me lately: I have hard time trying to understand why the present leaders of our legacy print don’t seem to see the obvious, when personally I don’t have to think for a second when I look e.g. at the stats…(circulation, ad revenue, r&d budgets, dividends, etc.) or layoffs, freelance contract demonstrations…
I mean: are they dumb or blind? Or both? Or…. Or could it really be that they are just so cold that they have looked at the numbers, understood that this is a game lost and the only thing to do now is to cash in before it totally collapses… and then move into something else.
Maybe into restaurant business or construction? Or something else lucrative?
Remember: these guys are professional businessmen, not journalists by training or vocation. And business is business…
So I decide to get a second opinion – a very educated one if I may add – and very casually I ask this editor-in-chief I mentioned while taking my pictures: “I know it sounds like a bad conspiracy theory, and I don’t want to imply these guys running the legacy print are idiots, but how can it be that they don’t see it? I mean, surely it cannot be that they don’t even try to do anything but to cash in…?”.
He does not hesitate a bit in his answer: “You are absolutely right, they are not idiots. It’s a game lost and they know it. And that’s exactly what they are doing.”
I am not easily shut up but I really did not know how to continue my casual conversation with him…
Johanna Vehkoo actually talks about the same thing – quoting Alex S. Jones and his Losing the News (2009) – using the term “harvesting” (“sadonkorjuu” in Finnish). Seeing it as a game lost and making the most of it before the game is over.
As I said, her book is a must-read for all of us.
An hour later I had posted the text above I came across Seth’s last blogpost:
“Managers work to get their employees to do what they did yesterday, but a little faster and a little cheaper.
Leaders, on the other hand, know where they’d like to go, but understand that they can’t get there without their tribe, without giving those they lead the tools to make something happen.
Managers want authority. Leaders take responsibility.
We need both. But we have to be careful not to confuse them. And it helps to remember that leaders are scarce and thus more valuable.”
– Seth Godin –
Is there any doubt as to which ones our legacy media presently relies on?