You know those requisite scenes in medical dramas where a person has flatlined, but there’s one stubborn doctor who keeps pounding their chest and administering oxygen as his colleagues try to drag him away and convince him the patient is dead? (I’ve been watching a lot of Grey’s Anatomy.) That’s how it feels to be in the media industry sometimes.
To be clear, I am not comparing myself to a surgeon — not even a fictional surgeon whose primary concern is a destructive workplace love triangle. In this metaphor, I’m probably one of the background doctors watching the drama unfold from across the room, except the doctor is blogging about it. The flatlining patient is obviously the media industry, and the surgeon is, depending on who you ask, a benevolent billionaire, a tech startup paying the world’s most annoying people to write newsletters, a worker-owned co-op, or a media union. As for what’s killing the patient, I think I’ve devoted enough words to those ailments over the past three years. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.
Of course, as we all know, those scenes often end with the patient’s heartbeat miraculously being restored — just when everyone has lost hope! The heart monitor starts beeping again! The doctor looks up in disbelief! Maybe, for added drama, the patient is shocked back into consciousness like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction! If this is a mid-aughts soap written by Shonda Rhimes, maybe a truly heinous song by a long-forgotten band like The Fray is playing. This is my incoherent metaphor, so let’s say it’s “How to Save a Life,” the worst among some very bad The Fray songs.
So far, that miracle hasn’t happened for the media industry. I don’t think it will. It’s not that I think we’re doomed to die on the table, but instead of the dramatic resuscitation, I think we’re going to get little signs of hope here and there. Blades of grass poking through the pavement. Noah’s dove returning to the ark with an olive leaf after the flood. Sparse greenery letting us know there’s life out there — the growing trend of worker-owned media, a benevolent billionaire (maybe) saving Tribune Publishing from the clutches of a vampiric hedge fund. For all the fraught discourse around Substack and the persona-based economy more broadly, I do think it’s good that creators can easily self-publish and monetize their work.
It feels like every few weeks we have an internal discussion at Study Hall as to whether the tone of my dispatches is too grim. If they are, it’s because I don’t know how else to talk about, say, over 28,000 media jobs being lost in 2020, a dramatic increase from the already grim numbers of the year before, or the trend of hedge funds scooping up local newspapers then gutting them. Plus, I’m a journalist, so I’m not naturally predisposed to optimism. But I do see signs of life or else I wouldn’t be here. Also, I have no other marketable skills.
It’s been, oddly enough, a joy to bear witness to this hellhole of an industry, particularly at Study Hall, which is one of the surgeons trying to help give it life. (Study Hall is the McDreamy of the media industry, but there are no workplace love triangles.) The news hasn’t always been good, but I’ve gotten to help explain its ups and downs, to try and make sense of its oscillating trends, and to actually have fun doing it; I also got to develop a real sense of camaraderie with my fellow workers.
I’m not going anywhere (though you may see me less on the hell-site). Thank you for reading.
Ed. note: For the first and last time, Allegra Hobbs was given a free pass to choose her own headline.