The journalistic 1%

It’s a tough time for aspiring journalists. Business models are failing faster than new ones can pop up, layoffs and buyouts are the norm at numerous legacy publications. How might we improve the outlook for young would-be journalists? What about by demanding a little something back from the journalistic 1%?

Here’s Matt Yglesias in a post on copyright:

It’s no secret that high-end income inequality has increased substantially over the past several decades. That’s happening for a variety of reasons. One reason, however, is that the returns to being a superstar content creator are much much higher in 2011 than they were in 1981. That’s because the potential audience is much bigger… At the same time, the cost of producing digital media content has fallen thanks to improved computers and information technology.

I mention the distributional impact of superstar economies in this post as well. We’re seeing this at the level of publications too, in the “missing middle” phenomenon described bo Matthew Hindman.

All of this makes sense. Why would I read my local economics columnist if I could read Yglesias or Tyler Cowen? In commentary and analysis, at least, it’s obvious how digital communications would mean a shift to superstar economies in media. With that comes superstar salaries for folks like Andrew Sullivan, Thomas Friedman (though his pre-dates the explosion of the blogosphere), etc.

So why not ask the journalistic 1% to give something back? What if Friedman, Sullivan, etc. pledged to spend 50% of their take from book deals only to endow fellowships for young writers, or even for interesting media startups? As America has become more unequal with a tiny percentage of “superstars” getting an increasing share of the wealth, the Occupy movements have demanded… well ok they haven’t demanded much yet, but you get the idea. Why doesn’t the journalist community demand more systematic generosity from its (relatively less rich) 1%? The beauty here is that journalism is a field blessed with a serious professional ethic that might actually make something like this possible, as compared to finance.

UPDATE: The Atlantic’s Nick Jackson notes that the journalistic 1% aren’t really all that rich, that it’s really the .01% that I’m referring to.