"Pathetic" Journalist Responds To Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh, in hiding behind his prestige and books, sees a big problem with journalism, just not the root of the problem: Money.

This is an open letter to Seymour Hersh.

Hi, I'm a journalist.  A "pathetic" journalist, at that.  How's it going Seymour?  That bank account going a little dry there?  Let's talk about that bank account a little bit there.  After all, it's part of the reason you are putting out a book now, is it not?  Why else would you hide such important information as what really happened to Osama Bin Laden in the 2011 Abbottabad raid in an "upcoming book," other than that you need money?  I mean, you are not obviously publishing this huge scoop in the New Yorker or Rolling Stone because they are not paying you enough for it.  And that's the real problem, Mr. Hersh: It's not that American journalism is filled with liars and cowards, though it is.  It is that there is no money in American journalism, because no one is willing to pay for the truth.

Let us talk a little bit about how you get paid, Seymour Hersh.  Your My Lai story, the one that was your big break, first netted you $100 at first, then up to $5000.  In today's terms, that equals $600 and $31,000.  That's a lot of money right there.  It's also an amount of money that nobody in the business wants to pay now, or can pay.  The press has a hard time paying freelancers $100 for a single article.  I have friends in the business who are lucky if they get anything higher than $30,000 in a year as a job.  I know freelancers who are grateful when they get paid $200 for 12,000 word story that took weeks to develop, and most of the time get only $10 per article or 2 cents a word.  These numbers may be okay in 1970, maybe even 1980, but they definitely are not worth it now.

2013 average ad revenue/CPM numbers

You cannot fault the press entirely for this, though, Mr. Hersh.  Look at advertising revenue for the media this year, in this neat chart above, specifically the CPM numbers.  It used to be that advertisers would pay a lot of money in media just to put their ad in the paper.  Now, they do not have to spend a lot:  Advertising has moved with newspaper readers to the web, where it is far cheaper to place ads on websites, even those of a similar nature to newspaper ads.  A web publication could litter their site with invasive advertising that makes a newspaper page look rich in content, and they would still be getting far less in revenue than that newspaper.  Of course, because it's easy to access web publications for free, people have stopped reading newspapers.

So what happens when a publication does not rack up the ad money like it should?  It loses the ability to publish quality journalism.  The publication cannot hire quality reporters or editors, and it cannot pay freelancers an acceptable rate for their articles.  It cuts corners, cutting out even an entire photography staff and asking the reporters to use their low-quality iPhones to take pictures in order to maintain overhead.  A web publication especially may rely heavily on having their own writers write advertisements disguised as articles to make a couple extra dollars, which essentially kills any credibility those writers have.

What we have now, Seymour Hersh, is a wasteland.  American journalism is a place where a writer, who was offered a six-figure salary job writing for a national magazine as late as 10 years ago, can now only expect "recognition" as their compensation from that exact same publication.  Young journalists, even a Pulitzer Prize winner, have abandoned the profession because they cannot afford to live on the salaries journalists have, which have not changed much since the 1990s, and are poor even by our scrappy standards.  It is a place where BuzzFeed, a site filled with useless memes, annoying animated gifs, and "sponsored content," is one of the few web news publications actually making a profit, while Andrew Sullivan's The Dish, which is running entirely on reader subscription, will likely not reach the goal required to run the site and pay its editors adequately.  American journalism is now a place where pageviews matter more than facts.

Yes, Seymour Hersh, the editors are cowards, but they are cowards because they will not take stupid risks.  With most publications hemorrhaging money faster than a decapitation bleeds, publishers and senior editors are far less risky, far less likely to use precious resources on a story that might lead absolutely nowhere and kill reader interest.  Of course newspapers are going to rely on two or three sources on the drone killings, because they cannot afford to do their own work.  More importantly, though, if these editors get fired, there is nowhere for them to go.  So they lie, they cheat, they write on things that are safe and guarantee readership.

So it is true that American journalism is filled with liars and cowards, Seymour Hersh.  But that is because people do not want to pay for the truth.  To think otherwise, Mr. Hersh, shows that you live in a damned fantasy.  I would like to see you start a career in journalism now, and tell me the same exact thing you said to those students.  Meanwhile, we will go pirate your next book, just to spite you.

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