A lot of folks -- and not just in Philly -- are talking today about my friend Jim MacMillan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning ex-Daily News photographer. A profile in Philadelphia Weekly points to two basic paradoxes about the MacMillan phenominon (more on what exactly that is in a minute) that to me are really the basic paradoxes of the modern news business. How is that by leaving the Daily News, and by not currently working for any news organization, MacMillan has raised his profile as a journalist higher than it's ever been? And yet how come he had hardly has a dime to show for all his newfound fans.
The article explains:
What will their profession look like in the future? And how will it make money?
MacMillan left the Daily News in September, after 17 years there, intending to answer the first question. ”I’m catching on that there’s no future in newspapers,” he said. ”The game is over. And it breaks my heart. I love newspapers. But it’s over.”
So MacMillan transformed himself into a one–man band of Philadelphia journalism. He kept shooting photos and videos of fires, parades, protests and other happenings around town and posting them to his website, jimmacmillan.net. And he started aggressively promoting his work through roughly 30 ”social networking” sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, where his stream of posts — often around 10 or more per day — built an audience of more than 4,000 followers. (The Inquirer, by comparison, has about 1,500 followers.) Various ranking services place him as either the first– or second–most influential Twitterer in Philadelphia.
As someone who's new to Twitter with (deservedly) a fraction of the followers, I'm blown away by his viral success. But can online popularity easily be, to use that dreaded word, "monetized"? Uh, no -- not yet, certainly:
”There is this disconnect,” he said. ”I’m enjoying this little flash of celebrity and attention, but I’m not paying the rent from it. I’m making lunch money.”
What to do? Who knows? Another story getting a lot of buzz today was written by David Carr in the New York Times, who argues that the music industry was in a similar bind as journalism just a few years ago from free file-sharing but is gaining a second life from iPods and iTunes, and that news providers could use the iTunes model (including a coming version of the iPod with a larger screen) to once again get readers to pony up for the news.
Most of the media reform crowd thinks Carr missed the mark, and I pretty much agree. The main reason is obvious, which is that newspapers are mostly ad-supported, while music is not. (Also, file sharing was never as ubiquitous as free news over the Internet is.) Nice try, David, but the model still doesn't exist, and I'm beginning to think that when it finally arrives, it won't make anybody rich, just help a few folks subsist. I really hope that Jim MacMillan is one of those people.
One last word: The media also won't survive if we don't do our job better. My friend Jay Rosen has an excellent new blog post up that diagrams the warped way in which big-time journalists decide what is newsworthy, and what isn't. Check it out.