I used to work as a software engineer 25 years ago so I have some idea of what that job is like. But I sometimes wonder if bloggers, many of whom are software engineers, know much about how journalists do their jobs.
Let me tell you a bit about my job working as a journalist and covering Silicon Valley (since 1984).
I sometimes like to describe the Silicon Valley of today, as one of those summer-time carnival slushies, where the juice collects in the bottom of the paper cone, leaving largely colorless and flavorless chunks of ice at the top. The chunks of ice are the mature, large tech companies who are ever fewer in number because of mergers, a trend that has also eliminated an entire strata of mid-cap tech companies, leaving the many small ice crystals of the startups.
I like the juice at the bottom, which is where the thousands of Silicon Valley startups and their communities hang out. And the juice is the business of Silicon Valley -- the planet's largest center of innovation.
That's what I loved about working at the Financial Times--we reported on the business of companies and economies. It's a focus that provides valuable additional understanding of industry and global events.
I also liked the quarterly reports season; every three months we had two weeks of financial reports from some of the largest and complex companies in the world.
Because of our global print deadlines and online demands, we had to file our first news stories just 30 minutes after the release of the financial numbers at 1.30pm. Then listen to the conference call, while writing an update for the UK deadline at 2.30pm, taking an interview with the CEO or CFO, then hitting the final European edition at 3pm, then updating for the final US edition at 3.30pm.
Earnings reports are challenging because you have very little time to find the right numbers, make sure they are comparable with prior years, and the immediately prior quarter, calculate percentage performance of the business groups, and figure out if business performance met strategic goals. And explain the company's place within the dynamics of their markets, make numerous calls, discuss the story with numerous editors and copy editors--all within a two-hour period.
And you have to hit all your deadlines, and then some--because invariably we would often have to file an additional 100 words in 30 seconds because of changes in other news stories creating holes just moments before the page is sent to the presses.
My beat companies at the Financial Times were the tech giants IBM, Intel, Applied Materials, Texas Instruments, EDS, Symantec, Veritas, EMC, and Network Appliance. For a while I also covered Oracle, Computer Associates, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IPO markets, and the venture capital sector.
I always enjoyed reporting IBM's quarterly numbers because of their complexity; with massive business groups in every area of the tech enterprise market (except enterprise applications), and including semiconductors which had its own special dynamics.
IBM acquires and sells sizeable business groups constantly, making comparative performance analysis difficult; plus the effects of currency fluctuations add more complexity. And let's not mention the effects of funding IBM's pension plans...
Reporting on IBM's quarterly earnings was challenging but very useful because it provided an insight into nearly every sector of the IT industry. And you could see a knock-on effect reflected in the share prices of hundreds of companies.
So it was very important to get the earnings stories out quickly and accurately--and provide an original angle or spot something that competing journalists had missed.
Earnings season or not, in the San Francisco FT bureau our first deadline was at 10am, and we'd often each file two news stories. Each news story involved any and often all of the following: speaking with company execs, analysts, competitors--checking the most recent brokerage reports, the real-time stock market reaction, and providing the context and the meaning of the event. Talking with editors, and sometimes coordinating and combining news stories with colleagues in bureaus in Asia and Europe.
The result was a neat package of 450 words or less. If it was a big story you would also produce a 700 word analysis companion piece. And updates throughout the day.
The fun part of journalism is that you don't know what what the stories will be that day. But whatever the news event, you are a part of teams that have the processes and infrastructure to disseminate high quality news within minutes. That's what a professional media sector does.
Journalism is a great job and I continue being a journalist, reporting on the business of Silicon Valley. But I sometimes wonder if people really know what journalists do every day and if they think it is similar to blogging and that anybody can do it?
Certainly, I would agree that anybody can blog; I tell people if you can write an email you can blog so don't be afraid of becoming a blogger.
But being a journalist is not like blogging, as I hope the above description demonstrates. Journalism takes years of practice and at salaries a software engineer wouldn't touch.
Typically, you could probably hire at least two, maybe three journalists for one software engineer salary (not including the software engineer's bonus and stock options.) Yet Hollywood often portrays journalists enjoying spacious homes, and with a lifestyle of a privileged class.
The stark fact is that it is not anybody that can do the hard jobs that media professionals at thousands of newspapers, radio stations, TV, magazines etc, do every day, in every country--with apparent ease. And for average salaries.
Yet we are losing the economic base for those jobs at an accelerated rate-- that's on top of five years of steady decline and losses. If we are right about society needing high quality media to ensure a healthy democracy, and to be able to figure out the solutions to big problems--then what happens next?
What happens if the old media dies before the new media has learnt to walk?