Is there any such thing as a career in digital journalism?

My working hypothesis is that the answer is no.

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One Response to Is there any such thing as a career in digital journalism?

  1. Gil Roth says:

    Hi, Felix,
    I was reading your post on where there’s such a thing as a career in digital journalism. My story comes from the print side, and the B2B world: After 19 years in trade magazines, and 14+ years as founding editor of a pharma industry book (Contract Pharma), I quit in order to launch a trade association that advocates for the sector that I covered (the Pharma & Biopharma Outsourcing Association, at Here are a couple of rambling anecdotes that may or may not fit into your reporting.
    I came up with the idea for the association while reporting on an article for my magazine. A new FDA user fee was hurting my sector, and I began asking those companies — the advertisers in the magazine — if they felt they needed a trade association of some kind. They unanimously responded, “Yes, and you should run it.” It took me a year of hemming and hawing before I took the plunge, but part of my reasoning was, “I’m 43 years old, and the economics of magazines will not survive the next 20 years in a way that can support me.”
    As we all know, online advertising sells for a small fraction of what print advertising does, and the B2B magazine business model is funded almost 100% by advertising. (Contract Pharma also has an annual trade show that’s held in high esteem in the industry.) I looked at that transition to online and decided it was better to jump at 43 than get pushed at 53. I built a lot of trust and goodwill with those companies over my tenure and I was able to convince 15 of them to sign on as members of the PBOA in my first 2 months.
    But before I came around to that decision, I had to face the prospect of online-only magazines and the 25-year-old “kids” that work for them. In 2011, I attended a CEO briefing at a trade show, and discovered that I was around 15 years older than any other editor/writer there. At first, I felt like a dinosaur, but once the Q&A began, I realized that, even though these web-kids could crank out 20 stories a day for their sites, they didn’t actually know too much about the industry. I chalked up a win for institutional knowledge.
    A few weeks later, a major company in our space held a press day at their HQ. I showed up along with a few of my contemporaries. I dress very well for events like this (it’s now part of my job description, since I discovered last month that I have to register as a lobbyist), and the other editors also showed up in suits, ties, etc.
    Then an SUV pulled up and four 20-something editors from an online-only trade mag got out. They were wearing sweaters, grass-stained jeans and sneakers, and carrying backpacks. A smile spread across my face like that episode of Cheers when Cliff is on Jeopardy! and the topics include “Beer” and “Men who live with their mothers.”
    I led the group of editors as we walked to the conference room. The marketing director for this multi-billion-dollar company opened the door and said, “Gil! How are . . .” and never finished his sentence as he glared at the ill-dressed 20-somethings behind me. During the briefing, some of the executives talked to me about young people’s lack of respect and professionalism, WHILE THESE YOUNG EDITORS WERE SITTING BESIDE ME.
    So: anecdote, not data point, and it’s about a weird subset of journalism. I have no idea how these online-only B2B plays will be able to pay their staff — even with the limited demands of 25 year olds — once their startup money runs down. All I know is, our business model (which is doing just fine right now) won’t support full-time staff once the transition to online goes 100%, and I decided to get out of that field while the going was still good. I do some writing for the association’s blog and its press releases, but much of my time is spent organizing our members, advocating with FDA and Congress, making public appearances (interviews and presentations) and making new business pitches. That’s not necessarily what most B2B editors want to do or are capable of doing, but after a year-plus of this new gig, I have no regrets about getting out of trade magazines.
    Except for the way I have to try to moderate my apocalyptic tone about this business model when I’m talking to other editors. Don’t want to make them all doubt their futures, y’know?

    Anyway, keep up the great work,

    Gil Roth
    Founder, President
    Pharma & Biopharma Outsourcing Association

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