Some might see the new age of professional business bloggers as a sign of progress — even if those bloggers rarely leave the office or pick up the phone to report and wear ironic t-shirts that say things like, “Trust me, I’m a reporter.”
If you ask me, it’s further proof that journalism is experiencing an identity crisis.
In early April, Dan Colarusso, the former New York Post Business editor and a longtime newspaper veteran, contacted me to see if I’d be interested in a summer internship at the high profile business and media blog, The Business Insider. The rate for graduates was $12 an hour and most of the work involved simple news aggregation. About as appealing as administrative paperwork to a scientist.
But I would have the chance to observe the much talked about banned equity analyst-turned-blogger Henry Blodget run his new media outfit, and I needed the work.
“This also might be a good place for you to catch up on the twitter phenomena,” Dan told me when I came to see him at the blog’s former office and confessed that I was a little out of touch with new media. “To be 100% honest, I don’t know if this is the future of journalism,” he said. “But I might not be the best judge of that.”
“My blackberry doesn’t even fully work,” he added with a comforting laugh.
“Mine doesn’t either,” I replied in all honesty. “Maybe it’s about time I got it up to speed.”
I was ambivalent about the idea of taking a step backwards in order to go forwards. But after seeing most of my freelance gigs disappear, along with the last few job scraps on Poynter and mediabistro, I contacted Dan a few weeks later to see if there were any openings left. He graciously invited me on board — signaling, again, his own ambivalence about the place — and told me I would join the Insider’s Clusterstock team starting early June.
When I walked into the new office space for my first day, I put my intern hat on and reminded myself that this was just another stepping stone into the age of post-postmodern journalism.
The first assignment the Clusterstock editor handed me was to cull through espn.com and a multitude of sports blogs to come up with the 10 worst franchises, in terms of payrolls and home-game attendance, for a multimedia slideshow. He also asked me to search for photos online to put over captions he would write. When I asked about the protocol for reusing published media, he told me not to worry about it, so long as the photos weren’t from a traceable publication — like say, ESPN.
That was the first sign that something was off.
The next morning the Clusterstock editor told me to go through a list of financial blogs and pitch three story ideas based on recent blog entries about larger news stories. After that, I was put to writing up email alerts, finding photos and doing other intern stuff.
A few hours later, he asked me to run through the financial blogs again and pitch three more story ideas.
“Sure, but why don’t you give me some feedback on the first three before I get started?” I asked, trying not to sound too unappreciative.
“That’s a good point,” he said, “I’ll do that in a little bit. Why don’t you just go through those blogs again in the meantime?”
Out of curiosity at that point, I stood up to get some water and glanced over at his computer screen. He had the blog’s heat map pulled up and was totaling the hits on his posts from that week.
That was the second sign.
Later that same afternoon two of the Silicon Alley Insider editors started to trade jokes and giggle over the New York Times’ horrendous earnings report for that quarter. I had heard similar jabs from bloggers several times before, but I finally realized then that bashing the Times has essentially become proof of one’s own merit in the world of blogging — even for those who rely on the Times for information.
I started culling through older Business Insider posts to see what the general consensus was.
One staff editor had actually written in a post titled “Newspapers Must Be Allowed to Fail”: “Watergate broke because an FBI agent, aka Deep Throat, didn’t like the way Nixon politicized the FBI — not because Woodward and Bernstein sleuthed it out. Source will always find the biggest megaphone they can to get their views out.”
In other words, reporters are dependent on their sources and the smart ones should just hang around the office and wait for a phone call (or a facebook message.)
I was scratching the surface of information so these guys could take cheap shots, grammatical errors included, and then go back to praising twitter. And then it hit me. Where’s Dan Colarusso? It was a fairly small office and I hadn’t seen him either day.
I asked out loud where he was, but all I got were blank looks and faint mumbles. So I waited about an hour and asked again. I never got a straight answer, but all that mattered at that point was that Dan certainly wasn’t there and, from the looks of it, he wasn’t coming back. “There goes any obligation I had to this place,” I said to myself.
That night, I emailed the Clusterstock editor and Business Insider’s publisher to let them know I would need to cut down on my hours to pursue freelance commitments elsewhere.
The publisher wrote me back the next day, informing me that under the circumstances it would be best if they released me from my internship.
“I understand,” I wrote back. “Please send my check for those two days to the following address.”
“Are you serious?” she responded a few minutes later.
“Yes. I came in and worked for those two days, and these are tough times.” I wrote.
Her next response read: “In two days you did not contribute productively to The Business Insider, rather you consumed resources while we trained you. You may send an invoice for those two days if you really think it appropriate.”
Wow. Their CEO Blodget gets $5 million in new funding for his blog — the third round of funding in its less than two-year existence — and I get a snippy insult when I ask for my $192 in return for aggregating news for the site.
Newspapers and magazines are dropping like flies, cable networks are just a few steps behind, and even the blogs that thrive off of their failures are feeling the unbearable lightness of being.