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November 26, 2008

Anil Dash Saves Journalism

The concept of the "bailout" has at this point officially and unequivocally lost all meaning. The term, once a polarizing Hot Topic used to describe the debate about the federal government's financial rescue of major financial institutions, is now being bandied around by every major industry that can no longer look at itself in the mirror—mainly because the mirror had to be sold off. Case in point: print journalism. As an industry, journalism has been hobbling around on broken legs and unwilling advertisers for awhile now, leaving all kinds of staff crushed and unemployed in its wake, wondering where their goddamned bailout is.

Anil Dash

Anil Dash, via Wikipedia.

Turns out it's in the hands of pro-blogger Anil Dash. Dash, he of the Six Apart blogging platforms (Gelf uses 6A's Moveable Type) has seen the future of print journalism, and it is…internet journalism. For those jettisoned writers languishing in a mix of their own obsolescence, ennui, and Jameson, Dash has birthed the "TypePad Journalist Bailout Program," which will give "recently-laid-off or fearful-of-layoffs journalists" a free "pro account" on the company's blogging platform, not to mention all manner of sparkly resources like professional tech support, placement on the company's blog-aggregation site, and enrollment in their advertising revenue-sharing program.

Here's part of the announcement:

We're offering a platform to publish your work and profit from it. A platform that gives you complete control, with no dependence on the whims of a publisher, and no interference from an outside editor. Your blog can act as a clip file for your best pieces, whether you're looking for freelance work or a new full-time gig. You can link to your best past stories and even add back in those two or three grafs that your editor cut.

Essentially, Dash's nebulous-sounding miracle platform describes the complete essence and sum total of a regular blog: The same kind of low-tech forum being employed by writers without print connections or passable accreditation for a decade. Except on Six Apart, they go for $150. According to the New York Times, Six Apart had around 50 email applications in on Monday morning, and by now somewhere in excess of 300. Dash told the paper of record how he came up with the bailout: "How do we do right by all these people? That's exactly what's keeping me up at night."

Most likely on account of this crippling magnanimity, Mr. Dash did not to respond to Gelf's inquiries. We're left to wonder if just letting out-of work writers know they can continue to publish themselves, without editing and with minimal readership, qualifies as a "bailout." Is it just that normally, the site charges to let you know of these "web-logs," as the kids are calling them, and in the spirit of this complete economic erosion, is waiving the consultation fee? Yes.

To be fair, Dash admits in a closing note buried in a separate post on a the Six Apart blog that his cutely-named web promotion might not solve anything in the way of rampant unemployment, although it might make you feel a smidgen better. "I know that journalists are a skeptical bunch, so I'm not trying to bullshit anyone: The TypePad Journalist Bailout Program is not a silver bullet. It's not going to singlehandedly preserve the career and income of every working journalist who has a job today … But what we can do is give journalists the tools to take control of their own presence online. This program will let a lot of the most eager writers and reporters learn the ropes about how to be more effective and successful on the web."

So no, a slab of new blogs probably won't cure journalism. At best, they're a quick fix for some harried, strung-out writers and their coverage is a wonderful marketing boon for Six Apart. Most likely, they'll just add to the saturated mass of journalism already not being read.

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