Journalism 101: Is Touré Right?


A few weeks ago, I got into a discussion on Twitter with writer Touré.

For those of you who don’t know him, a bit of backstory:

Touré is one of the patron saints of entertainment writing. He’s written stunning profiles of Lauryn Hill and DMX for Rolling Stone. I’ve dutifully followed his byline since long before I ever copped my own.

He’s a dope writer.

I strongly suggest you cop Never Drank The Kool-Aid, a collection of some of his best pieces. You won’t love them all. But whether you’re new or just starting out in writing, you’ll learn something.

He’s also delved into fiction. I got an advance copy of his novel Soul City when it was released a few years ago. It went way over my head. Didn’t like it. (If you read it and understood it, feel free to tell me about it).

No matter. I love his work. I’m in awe of his career trajectory. And I’m a big old unabashed fan.

So, a few weeks back, I’m checking out the Twitter feed. And I see that Touré is talking back and forth with up and coming writers about the future of journalism. A sample of his Tweets:

Toure (ToureX) on Twitter-2

I read his Tweets and felt my blood start to boil. In the first message, he said it was wrong to follow your heart. What?

I respectfully disagreed with Toure. I think that things are changing, no doubt. But hustlers will survive–and even flourish. If writing is your passion AND your willing to work HARD, you will be fine. I truly believe that.

For nearly 30 minutes, I went back and forth with Touré as he continued to dash the dreams of hundreds of folks on Twitter who follow him and hang on his every word for advice and guidance. One person asked a great question. Why not give advice on how to make it? Toure’s response:

Toure (ToureX) on Twitter

At this point, I was just pissed off.

Listen to me people:


It will be different. But it will still be.

Print media is in crisis. We know this. But there are so many more avenues opening up.

I’m going to use a young woman we had as a guest blogger as an example. Tara Pringle Jefferson wrote a guest blog on wanting to get her tubes tied. We’re both following each other on Twitter so I see her updates. She has a distinct voice on Twitter. She’s a young mom and she talks about those issues. I noticed recently that she started a TweetChat with other young moms. I didn’t join in. But I watched the feed. It was good. And I noticed that she’s building a nice little community for herself. She has a clean, well-designed website that she updates regularly.

My point is that Tara gets it. She’s doing all the right things. She’s not in the white hot center of the media culture. But even in the Midwest, she’s got my eye. I’m watching out for her, though she doesn’t even know it.

I know she has a future in the business. Why? Tara’s a hustler. She reached out to me to write a guest blog, endured the re-writes, poured her soul out to strangers for free. Will she get a staff writer job at Essence? Maybe not. Will her blog take off? Maybe. Maybe in five years, Tara will be charging a fee to enter her TweetChat room. Because the content she offers is just that valuable.

I just know that she–and others I encounter–are not just sitting around waiting for journalism to collapse.

And besides, since when has journalism ever been a money making venture? I went into teaching after college because I was always told: writers don’t make money.

At the risk of getting the IRS all over my behind: let me state plainly that in 2008, I quadrupled the yearly salary I would have made as a teacher.

Am I an anomaly? Maybe.

But I also worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week for my first four years in the game.

I don’t appreciate Touré telling young people that they need to go to med school or business school instead of pursuing journalism. I think he was saying those things just to be provocative. But it broke my heart to read the responses from people who were crushed by his words.

A few weeks after the Twitter conversation, I went to Philly to speak at a writer’s conference sponsored by the Art Sanctuary. (More on that soon).

I flipped through the program on the ride down to Philly to see who else would be there. There was a workshop on Twitter–led by Toure.


At the end of my workshop on crafting a memoir, I was talking with my co-panelist Lori Tharps and a few participants who lingered to ask questions.

And in walks Touré.

Now, here’s the weird thing. I’ve never met Toure. I think I may have seen him before in passing. But we’ve never officially crossed paths. Never exchanged so much as an email. We only know each other through mutual byline recognition. And the first time we ever communicated at length was via Twitter.

So why is it that when I saw his face appear in the doorway, my face broke into a smile and we actually…hugged.

That’s the weird thing about Twitter. It gives you a cyber-connection that instantly translates into real life.

We were exchanging pleasantries like we used to pal around in Brooklyn together. I introduced him to TG as “my friend Touré.”

And then, I snapped out of it.

“Touré, I don’t like what you’ve been saying online. It’s totally wrong.”

Touré got serious quickly too.

“It’s not wrong,” he said. “It’s the truth. Journalism is dead.”

“Stop saying that! It’s changing not dying!”

And so it went, going back and forth in real life, the same way we had in cyberspace.

I got Touré to concede one thing: enterprising writers will find other ways to survive, even if it’s not in the traditional formats.

“Okay, you may be right,” he said. “Maybe writers will still be able to make money. If they do other things. But that’s the hard part….”

Yes, it will be hard. But again, it can be done.


Soon after I returned from Philly, a friend of mine who also reads this blog and follows me on Twitter, sent me this link from Craigslist:

social media

A social media manager? I wasn’t even sure what that was or if I was interested.

I do know I’m interested in a steady check.

As we know, I sold my novel. Yay! But the book world is slow and unpredictable. I won’t see another check for my book until I hand in the edits. They are due on August 1. But I haven’t yet received the edits from my editor. (Sulay! Where are you? Sniff).

And we know the magazine game is super shaky. Last year, 20% of my salary came from KING, a magazine that no longer exists. Another 30% came from an entertainment magazine that had me on contract–a contract that was recently cancelled due to budget cuts.

It’s getting real in the field.

But the idea that I could make a decent living by updating a company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts? I was skeptical. That’s what I do all day for myself! Could I really apply what I’ve learned in the past year about social media and actually make a living?

I met with the marketing firm. Their client is a family-friendly restaurant we’ll call Yummy’s.

The chain has been around for years and years. (If you grew up on the east coast, you’ve been there a million times). And they were looking for someone who could be a presence for the company on the web.

I told the firm what I would do to increase their presence, based solely on what I’ve learned here on my own blog and Facebook and Twitter.

I got the job.

From now until December, I’m managing the social media platforms of Yummy’s. I respond when people mention the restaurant on Twitter. I set up contests and award prizes on their Facebook page. And I monitor their YouTube channels and Flickr accounts.

Is this journalism?

No, it’s not. It’s marketing.

But I wouldn’t have gotten the gig were it not for my background in writing and my recent foray into social media.

I work from home. And the money? Well. I’ll just say that I’m not mad. My bills will be paid as I pursue things that don’t make money–like this blog.

I have the flexibility to continue to take freelance writing assignments and work on the edits for my novel.

I’m working on my own terms. And getting paid to do what I’ve been doing for myself for months.

Oh. And I get to eat at Yummy’s twice a month for free. Not bad.

This is what I wanted to get across to Touré. Writers will have to be inventive. We will have to work harder to support our passions. We will have to stay on top of everything happening online so that we can keep pace.

My passion has always been simple. Work from home as a writer.

That’s it.

Work from home as a writer.

The ways in which I do this are changing at a breakneck speed.

But the fact remains.

I work from home–as a writer.

P.S.  And I actually enjoy the challenge of reaching out to Yummy’s customers on Twitter and Facebook. It’s not easy to convince people to “follow” a corporate entity. It’s helping me to learn what works in branding and marketing, something I will need to know when it’s time to market my novel next year.

Oh, and in the past two weeks, I’ve tripled Yummy’s followers on Twitter.

dear readers: if you’re new and just starting out, are you worried about the future? Am I making you feel more hopeful? If you’ve been writing for a while, are you finding other ways to support your passion? Can social media save journalism? Will we still be able to write for a living without getting a day job at Wendy’s?

I’d love to hear from you…

53 Responses to “Journalism 101: Is Touré Right?”

  1. theprisonerswife Says:

    wonderful post. i am a writer, not published very much, but working toward that goal. the fact that the industry is changing has been worrisome to me. i mean, you grow up with dreams that you’re going to write for Essence or The Source (i’m an 80s baby) and then you realize glossies are tanking. it made me wonder what’s going to be out there to even submit/get published in….? but then the ‘net comes along & i’ve begun to carve out some space for myself via my blog. that has allowed me to write consistently, get some articles up on other sites, and make connections. all of which have helped me to grow, tremendously.

    i’m not sure if social media can SAVE journalism, but it can push it into it’s next iteration. it’s definitely NOT dead…just wearing a new ‘fit.

  2. phyaflyjones Says:

    Thank you for this article. I have just made it my mission to “work from home as a writer.” I have no idea what I am doing yet, but I’m progressing. I’ll get it. I was just doubting myself for a minute. Toure’ linked this piece right on time. It goes to show, you find things when you need them.

  3. killahills Says:

    interesting. chloe hilliard and I have this conversation constantly, about whether we should keep writing or chalk it up because, though both of us are solid talented journos, we were laid off and the mags we freelance for are hanging on by a thread. Last week she told me, “girl, just get a job, and hopefully it’ll have some writing to it.” That made me think, maybe I need to chalk up my dreams of cover stories for Brit Vogue and GQ. Just be happy to write the ads behind Dos Equis or something, but even that broke my heart a bit because I equate advertising with selling my soul, tossing out my artsy clothing and becoming a “suit” like E. on Entourage. Am I wrong? Either way, I’m going to hustle and pay my rent, I’m a black girl and we know how to WORK. But I just want to make sure I’m not chasing an unstable future. If a shattered dream & a paycheck is to the right but your goal & your ambition is left, which direction do you go? My mind says the middle because that’d be the hustle, have a day job and be artsy at night…but will being “artsy” officially be my moonlighting gig? If so, what the hey am I fighting for?

    Just my thoughts. Hope this makes sense…

  4. aqua Says:

    I too witnessed Toure’s “journalism is dead, don’t do it” rants and felt irritated by them as well. But, it’s just one man’s opinion. Definitely influential, but if you’re going to let that stop you from pursuing your dream, you probably weren’t cut out for it anyway.

    I was blessed to be in the position to be writing for print publications as a freelancer (and for a while as an Editor-at-Large at the late Scratch) and to b knee deep in the online world as an editor at Now I’m writing scripts for a Hip-Hop show on cable and will soon be dabbling in the production side too (i.e. editing video packages). Needless to say I wouldn’t have got the gig without all my previous journalism experience.

    And I will always continue to freelance for print publications until they are extinct (doubt it). While an opportunity to become an author has presented itself. If you REALLY want to write for a living, you WILL find a way.

  5. Joyce E. Davis Says:

    so I follow Toure as well and was heated at his demise-of-journalism thread and posted a thought about it on my Facebook page, which was commented on by numerous folks including mag publishing superboy Keith Clinkscales (Vibe, ESPN):

    Me: I see his point, but diversifying ur skills across numerous media mediums can keep u in the game doing what u love.

    Keith Clinkscales: Toure is insightful but wrong. It is not a dying industry, it is one that is going through seismic change…much of that change is irrevocable. There have been many times that people of color have been locked out of industries simply because they are not part of the institutionalized structure…the structure is now collapsing…almost being rebuilt from the ground up…now is an excellent time to seize opportunity and build a career, while you do something that you love.

    Me: I advise my mentees to make sure they learn the digital aspects of any media biz they’re trying to break into…from my own gig, I can tell you–its vital.

    I’m a freelance journalist, author, blogger with a day job, who can’t imagine a world with our writers/communicators. And by the number of young writers who contact me regularly for advice about what they call their passion, I know that the craft is going nowhere. Its just changing like you said Aliya.

    If you got real skills, real passion, and real desire, then you’ll be creative and motivated to keep up.

    You wanna write? Just do it then. And don’t pay any attention to the sky-is-falling naysayers. Its just cloudy. Well okay, its storming. But the sun will shine again. Until then make your own – and get to work.

  6. Miss mikelah Says:

    Great read, i agree with you i think the dynamic of journalismmm is changing. you not only have to able to write but know how to promote yourswlf, your writing, dabble in photoshop, HTML and video, the more you know the more valuable you are as an employee or contract writer. I graduated with a marketing degree but was always interested in journalism, which I pursued only own so I think as a writer understanding how to do what you love and make money takes more effort now than it did when he was on the come up. It’s like record companies, they’re not making what they use to, but they still manage to survive.

  7. la negrita Says:

    I have been thinking hard about what it is I really want to get out of writing. Do I just want to write? Do I just want to see my byline in magazines I’ve read for years? Do I just want to be my own boss? And many, many others. Truth is, I’m not really sure anymore. But I do know that I’m not feeling social media on a professional level. Since journalism is not at this crossroad, I’ve been moving alternative plans to the front burner.

    The good news is that I know social media. I taught myself how to run my own website, and I pick up new technology pretty fast. So when I decide to embrace the new landscape, I’ll at least know how to navigate it. It’s definitely important to have the skills.

    Will I write? Of course! But how—or where—is the question.

  8. Imani Dawson Says:


    Thanks for your candor about this topic. I think it’s very easy for writers to become discouraged by media’s current tumultuous climate, especially if they view it out of context.

    Obviously, the media isn’t dying. People are always going to need information and stories. The late scholar Joseph Campbell said that stories and myths teach us how live our lives and function in society.

    The industry is evolving. Change is a natural function of life, and as storytellers, we must learn to adapt.

    Magazine and newspaper writing may no longer be a realistic goal for aspiring scribes, but as you pointed out, blogs and the Internet offer few barriers to entry. My first byline appeared on and that was way back in 2000. People are checking for smart, well written blogs and twitter streams, and your experience has proven that writers can leverage their online credentials to get paying gigs.

    We have to think bigger and out of the box.

    On my resume, I call myself a media professional. I use my skills across mediums. You need a bio written? Check. A news segment produced? Check. Advertising Copy? I’ve done that too. I’ve fact-checked, ghost-written blogs, penned corporate scripts, bios, press releases and produced news and commercial spots, in addition to writing articles and profiles.

    I couldn’t disagree more with Toure.

    I tried to go the “sensible” route. I wrote my way into Wharton, the best undergraduate business program in the country. I hated it and couldn’t bring myself to even apply for a traditional corporate job. And I can’t tell you how many repressed writers I’ve met who work as doctors and lawyers and engineers. They make bank, but eye me with envy when they learn I’m a writer and producer.

    I’m a firm believer that if you follow your passion and apply yourself, you can succeed at anything, even a media career.

  9. Jay1 Says:

    i think the “follow your brain not your heart” thing is really good, solid advice. and not just for a young writer but for a any 18 year old who’s about to go to college and pick a major they love over a major thats gonna get them paid.

    you have to make money.

    it sucks but you have to. especially now that magazines and papers are dying and everyone is moving to creating thier own site or blog, you better go get a job that will pay you enough to actually be able to buy a decent computer to run your blog from. straight up. then you can blog about your passions or how much you hate your job or review mixtapes or whatever but then you get up on monday and go to your day job and pay your mortgage.

    its very romantic to want to think that if you follow your heart everything will end up ok, but aliya c’mon. you’re doing your thing on a whole different level. its not really fair to be like “well, look at me, i followed my heart, and it wasn’t easy but with hard work…”

    you’re different. and times are different now than when you started.

    and really you’re a testament to how much things are changing and how to adapt. and how you better adapt.

    social media, fiction novels, that’s not journalism. it’s awesome but you’re doing completely different stuff than when you started out right?

    toure makes a great point and so do you. he’s saying it’s dying, you say changing, i say mutating. no one is going to be a journalist in a few years, people will still write, obviously, but it’s going to be blogs and other things.

    an 18 year old journalism major right now is going to have a completely different life than i did or anyone who was working in the field of journalism 10 years ago had. it’s gonna be crazy. he’s going to be his own editor, running his own “publication” from his computer.

    and that’s part of the point that all the “journalism is dead” people are making. that universe where you chase down a source and you put together a lead and pitch it to your editor is dying and you guys discuss it and work on drafts and argue about it, that awesome universe is definitely dying.

    but it’s also like the “hip hop is dead” thing. we all know there is still good music out there if you care to find it, but if you’re from a certain era and you throw the radio on, you would probably agree that it’s dead or dying.

    i hate when people leave long comments like this but whatever, i felt like ranting.

  10. Chloe Hilliard Says:

    I never thought I would get rich off of journalism.

    I remember being told by respected journalist who mentored me during high school NOT to go into journalism. I didn’t listen.

    I believe those of us who are working journalists (notice, i didn’t say PAID) are doing so because we love it. If that means you need to suppliment your income by working a non-media related job, so be it.

    Journalism as we knew it is dead.

    The reason why people are in a panic is because they honestly know if they don’t get caught up on web/social media and become visible players they will get left behind. That consists of much more work and not everyone wants to do that.

    No longer can you only write when you get an assignment. Now you have to show a body of work (blogs, columns, video clips) before anyone will consider hiring you. Even then they want to see how many friends you have on FB and Twitter, what’s your reach, your following, your influence.

    Never before has journalism been this much of a game.

    It’s time to adapt and create your own path.

  11. Serena Kim Says:

    Aliya you may be right. But I’m a publicist now. ’nuff said.

  12. Hill Rat Says:

    I came here from a link in Toure’s twitter feed FWIW.

    I think you’re both right. Toure’s right when he says that the days of fresh-faced cub reporters coming wide-eyed to the big city to learn how to be a journalist on the job are over. Just as you’re correct when you say that there is always going to be room in the writing game for a person willing to hustle, piece together contract work, and eat a whole lot of ramen.

    The question remains, what does all this mean? This could shake out in a bunch of different ways. Maybe the slow death of print journalism means that more brilliant writers like David Simon will leave it behind for the greener pastures of TV and movie writing. As that talent leaves the newsroom and goes to publishing or PR (like the two guys I know who were sports writers) it creates opportunities for bloggers and other independent journalists to break news stories.

    If I was a young buck just starting out, I would be fearful and reluctant to bet my future on print journalism. However, for a writer like myself (almost 40 with a family, stuck at a job I hate) all this commotion in the journalism industry represents an opportunity to become a professional writer that didn’t exist ten years ago.

  13. Aliya S. King Says:

    @jay1: I think you make some good points.

    You know what? Maybe Toure IS right?

    Maybe *journalism* is dead.

    But that’s the thing. I never pursued journalism. Didn’t go to J-school. Never called myself a journalist.

    I’m a writer.

    I like putting words on paper. I like striking the keyboard and putting down thoughts and ideas.

    I’m a writer. Full stop.

    Whether in novel form. Or for magazines. Or for my blog. Or shilling for Yummy’s in 140 characters or less.

    I want to sit in my office and write. Period.

  14. Tara Pringle Jefferson Says:

    Well, shoot. I’m at work.

    Heated up my lunch. Brought it back to my desk. Type in like I do every afternoon you have a new post.

    I read.

    See my name.

    See more words about me.

    I’m thinking, “Oh my! Oh my! Oh my!”

    Girl, I was so excited I almost forgot I’m eating jambalaya in a white sweater! Your praise is good but not enough to explain why I’ve got stains on me. LOL.

    But I think you are absolutely right. You have to CREATE the career you want, and not let the industry determine your moves. Your new job with Yummy’s is case in point. I do pretty much the same thing for my full-time job and I’m learning about social media and the internet more than ever.

    You have to do what you need to do in order to live the life you want.

    Like you, I want to write from home. I’ve given myself until the time my daughter hits kindergarten to make that happen. That’s 2.5 years. Will I make it by then? I hope so.

    Great post as always and thanks for the shout out!

  15. dionc1 Says:

    I am a writer, PERIOD. I love writing, I love daydreaming and dissecting sentences and trying to figure out the best word to use. I love that stuff, it’s just me and I can’t, no I won’t stop loving this art form. But as someone who was laid off about five months a go from a VERY popular magazine, I know that I have to find other avenues to do what I love.

    I’ve done this by continuing to write, start a blog, and pursue magazine and online freelance assignments. This is on top of still looking for a job “with benefits,” and I’ve decided to pursue another dream of mine, teaching.

    So here I am, still writing and pursuing teaching and trying to figure how the twain will meet. And after this I still believe that there are opportunities for journalists out there, it’s all about rebranding yourself and making a way out of no way.

  16. carlitomachete Says:

    Toure LOVES to rattle cages, point blank. It’s how he does his thing. It’s his voice, damn near. Won’t call it shtick b’cuz the man can write, and has proven that repeatedly. Helluva on-air correspondent, too, for that matter.

    That said, the convo is a genuine one. And Toure’s sky-is-falling admonition isn’t without merit. But maybe the convo needs to expand a lil’ bit until we can all agree on what, exactly, journalism is. More precisely, what defines journalism? That someone earns a living (ha!!) doing it? Or that someone does it, period?

    While we’re at it, we might wanna acknowledge our own complicity: We constantly rail and rail against “the man” and his corporate machine, appalled that we should actually have to PAY for content, whether it’s news or entertainment (anybody remember Napster?). But then get blind-sided when all-a-sudden-like, media companies (i.e. record labels, news outlets, magazines, etc) close up shop for lack of paying customers — and jobs get lost.

    That all the gluttonous waste going on at a good majority of said companies contributed to their death is no secret, of course, but damn if we (meaning: consumers, all) didn’t help stick that knife in a little deeper.

    Read an interesting article today (that if my homie Asking says it’s cool, I’ll post a Tiny URL for) about this same exact subject. The writer didn’t have the answers to what SHOULD happen, but he offered some solid insight as to what WILL happen (one of which is proven, coinky-dinky enough, by Asking’s latest round of steady employment).

    Writers write, period. It’s what makes us who we are. (At least, it does me). But in a climate where folks feel so inclined to not only put the tiniest minutiae of their daily comings-and-goings for the entire Twitterverse to see, but also offer hate-filled commentary disguised as criticism and gossip disguised as news on all things major and mundane — qualifying themselves on the simple basis of “because I feel like it,” well, the swimming pool just gets REALLY crowded.

    Can all of them — fuck it, all of US, actually earn a living doing it?

    I’ll get back to you on that; right now, I’m busy digging me a new swimming pool.

  17. Camilo S. Says:

    A journalism pal told me that when you do the marketing thing, you lose credibility as a journo.

    Still….we all have to stay paid, and that whole credibility issue could just be referring to the (on it’s last leg) newspaper game.

    I think the thing Toure and others are telling young journos is the same thing people tell young’ns who want to be actors or movie directors.
    Don’t do it. It’s not a REAL job.
    Now, with the way things are going with journo’s, we have to build our own brands, shoot our own video, it’s like we’re ‘actors’ on some stage, whether digital or print.
    Sure, “print is dead”, tv news is dying, and there are way fewer hip-hop magazines printed in the U.S. Sometimes you can’t afford to specialize, any more.
    But what about overseas?

    My homegirl got 200 pounds for writing a small story for a British magazine.

    We just need to think outside the normal routes. You’re hip-hop story might get shot down by the Source, but maybe a rap mag in Japan will pay you, or a newspaper in Ireland.

    My first big clips came from the Source. I thought I would always write about rap music, but just the other month I got a little bit of cake writing something totally non-hiphop related for Reader’s Digest. Never thought that would happen, but again, the money was right.

  18. Imani Dawson Says:

    Does anyone enter the business solely to be a journalist? I’d wager that the number of writers who *just* consider themselves journalists are pretty slim.

    I haven’t met one yet. Toure certainly has other aspirations—he’s both a novelist and a television host.

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the David Simons of the world move on to television and other media. As writers, we should all look to grow and stretch ourselves professionally.

    I know that’s my plan.

  19. paulcantor Says:

    even tho I have a journalism degree, I started out in the music business, which on every single level has been OBLITERATED by technology. So for everyone in media kinda whining about this, you’re all late. I have way more friends that were affected in that business than in publishing and media. You know what they’re all doing now? Either slaving away in some hole in the wall studio or working regular 9-5 jobs. Nothing fabulous, that’s for sure. Some of them were used to traveling the world on a record label’s dime. Now they punch a clock and deal with a bunch of joe six packs all day.

    It’s scary. That’s why I ventured down this path in the first place, to avoid that life.

    In many respects, I’ve always done more than one thing. Writing definitely has paid many bills, but maybe it’s my age or where I come from, I’ve never felt very stable just being a writer (and truth be told, maybe it’s something I enjoy, but not a full on passion). If I ever got a steady gig, it wasn’t but a month before I was looking for another one. The way I’ve seen it, both music and media have been collapsing for years. Way before I got into the game. Music has totally collapsed. Media is heading in that direction.

    Even these blogging jobs and things of that nature, budgets for that stuff are shrinking as well. I lost not 1, but 2 very well paying blogging gigs over the past year, due to budget issues.

    Plus working online is bordering on slave labor and sweat shop status. The work itself, rewarding people for page views, who can come up with the snarkiest headline… it’s all just very… degrading. Without putting too much of my business out there, I’ve done some writing gigs over the past year or two that just generally don’t make me feel very good about the type of content or information I’m putting out there in the universe. Pontificating about whether or not Bow Wow spat in Chris Brown’s face. If Teyana Taylor is a dike. Giving a play by play of fat joe and 50 cent beef. I mean, geez, that’s what the game has become to me. A spectator sport where it’s all like, “Such and such said x, y and z.” It’s all exposition, with no room for the narrative. It’s brainless, and enough to make you want to make moves into something else.

    Granted, you’ve got passions, you do what you gotta do to make sure you can act on them. But still, the pace at which everything is moving, it’s disheartening. Try telling Picasso he needs to paint 20 pictures in a day, and they all have to bring in a certain number of views for him to actually get paid. Ha! Get outta here. It’s ridiculous. Not saying writing news is like painting a Picasso, but still, it’s the same principle- that content needs to be created at a fever pitch, and bring in max exposure to make your money.

    In some ways I respect it. We’re a commission and results based world. But something about the core of that idea, and how it relates to the truth-seeking business, just doesn’t sit right with me. When you start making it all about the results, the truth part of that equation can take a hike.

    But it is what it is. Media business is changing, you either adapt, make moves into another business, or decide what you’re going to put up with in order to be one of the “creative” types. It’s tough making that decision now, because you’ve got sweat equity built up in the game, and hey maybe this whole thing shakes out somewhere positive in the end.

    I implore you all to read “The Dip” by Seth Godin. It’s all about quitting. Winners definitely quit. Don’t believe the hype and the cliches.

  20. la negrita Says:

    “But maybe the convo needs to expand a lil’ bit until we can all agree on what, exactly, journalism is. More precisely, what defines journalism?” –carlitomachete


    You bring up a lot of great points, and I love your swimming pool analogy. I think this is my biggest issues. I don’t feel like social media is journalism at all, despite the number of credible sources who have moved online. Someone above mentioned how hard it is in this climate. I actually think it’s a lot easier. All you need is a computer, a free WordPress account and a small following and you can call yourself a writer.

    I once read on Jimi Izrael’s blog how back in the day, he literally took his writing to the streets and was handing out samples to people. Said that if he saw someone toss his clip, he’d take it out the trash, brush it off and look for the next person to hand it to.

    I’d bet good money that many of the more famous bloogers wouldn’t have the tenacity.

    I’m not saying it doesn’t take a lot of work to get your name out there in social media. It does. But I still think a lot of people have gotten into it because it’s easy and convenient and not because they actually have an interest in being a writer. Everybody has something to rant about. Doesn’t make you a writer.

    That’s why I respect Aliya’s blog so much. You just don’t find many people putting in the type of work it takes to have a truly informative blog.

    Too many hacks and not enough substance.

  21. Kim Osorio Says:

    Okay, i tried to post this before, but maybe i’m slightly retarded today. if it comes in twice, it’s because i haven’t had coffee yet. and i’m slightly retarded.

    Hi Aliya, so glad i read this.

    I, too, work from home-as a writer.

    In 2008, i made more money than I have ever made in my entire career. it involved more than one income generator (job, book, lecturing), and it made for one hell of a painful tax experience. it took a lot of work, a lot of travel, and a lot of Starbucks.

    in school, I minored in business administration. then i went to law school. so what’s my point? I have a back up plan. when and if the checks stop rolling in (*knocks on wood as though to not jinx it), I will find another way to provide for myself and the kids. but i will continue to write, because that’s what i want to do.

    my message to young writers: have a back up plan. but never give up on your dreams. dreams do and can pay the bills (and sometimes even for unnecessary luxuries and Disney vacations) if you know how to market them–and you strike when the iron is hot.

  22. Joel Says:

    this forum is great. a current, cutting-edge, happening-right-now-under-our-feet topic! so Aliya, thank you for opening up the floor on this.

    Toure has a point no question. i personally believe his point is exaggerated, but i agree 100 percent with his sentiment that money is a major issue, so a committed journo has to become like water in times like these.

    point blank: it’s a scary time for print journos at newspaper and mags alike. news organizations are slashing their staffs by 50 percent or more, if they’re not completely shuttering their doors. i’m a pure journalist, trained in j-school as a newspaper reporter. i fiend to cover hard news for glossy mags. so what do i do now that mags are folding?

    i’ve always believed a pure journalist’s natural ascent is to an authorship. or a professorship. or both. communications industries like public relations and advertising are parallel to journalism as well, so one doesn’t have to feel compromised if they make the switch (for Hills). bottom line is, be swift and changeable in times like these.

    use gorilla tactics if u must. but u gotsta grind like the Clipse by any means necessary.

  23. Alisha Says:

    I never would have guessed that you’d be managing social media (but you are darn good at it!). I think it’s encouraging to see others branching out. Even if it’s not writing, it’s still something related to it. Who knows? A story idea could come from that!

    My biggest fear is not being able to break into the industry completely. Maybe I’m just out of story ideas or not thinking outside of the box. I worry that the magazines that do stay around will have their staff covering everything, rather than using freelancers.

    Congrats on the gig! Guess I’ll start following Yummy’s now.

  24. Michael Says:

    Maybe I was just a bit too cynical about the whole thing, but when was a successful writing career ever easy to have?

    Writers in the 90s used to have to call editors/writers they admired constantly before they could ever reach them. Now we have email, Facebook, & Twitter.

    I’ve reached out probably to hundreds of people over the years. Some ignore me, many do not. I’ve built relationships with people that have blossomed into actual paying gigs — ones giving me the exposure that may lead to even better jobs in the future.

    Last year I was miserable, feeling like after years of building everything became stagnant. I feared that everyone was passing me by and I punished myself for past choices. Then I thought about the alternative (re: not writing) and I snapped out of it. Sent more emails. Pitched more pieces. And on and on I went and continue to go.

    Budgets are being cut, sometimes I have to chase down for pay (even when under a contract) like a baby mama waiting for overdue child support, and I still worry about the future. But, I think about the alternative again and I brainstorm other ways to be successful.

    Will I have to go left field momentarily? Possibly. Do I think I’m going to fail? I’m weary, but I don’t think so. I say this modestly: Me failing just doesn’t seem likely. It may take longer to be successful than I would like it to, but I just don’t see it.

    With respect to Toure, sometimes I find him incendiary for the sake of so even if there is a legitimate point to be made, the tone in which he expresses his opinion is a complete turnoff.

    So when he tweeted, “says hustlers will survive (that hoary ghetto wisdom)” all I could do was muster a side-eye.

    Perhaps Aliya wasn’t as ‘eloquent’ as he would like, but I took it as her way of saying tenacity goes far and separates those of us who succeed and fail. That’s in any field.

    I think some people who were lost or not that passionate about writing are using the times as a cop out, honestly. If you have [that] much doubt, you didn’t really want it enough anyway in my opinion.

    If anything, now more than ever do people have chances to create opportunities for themselves. There are people who go on YouTube, rant and now have access to the same places as Janet Jackson and Leonardo DiCaprio. There is opportunity out there.

    We are living in the worst economic period in more than half a century. Many people are suffering right now and feeling hopeless. However, I’m pursuing a field that makes me happy. I’d rather take longer to get to where I need to be than enter a tax bracket several years earlier doing a job that will force me to get a prescription.

    Aliya, I appreciate this post, your tweets, and your words in group chats. I look at you as a realistic optimist.

    I recently came to LA with nothing. I never saw myself doing such a thing. I felt like I was a cliche, but then I realized being a writer is almost a cliche in itself. And I hit the ground running as soon as I can. Then other opportunities presented itself to keep me afloat while I pursue my passion. I’m patient, cautious, and try my best to manage my money well.

    It’s not easy, but again, I never saw making it as a writer to be an easy road. I still look at my future as ‘What could be?’ versus ‘Damn, I’m fucked.’

  25. clove Says:

    jay 1 wrote: “no one is going to be a journalist in a few years, people will still write, obviously, but it’s going to be blogs and other things.”

    I do agree that it’s disheartening. but I disagree completely that journalism is dead. I just think it’s taken in differently than traditional means. I don’t think a world without journalism and real news could exist. blogs are not real news. they’re opinions and they post things that are based on real news. they come from people who go out and report things and do the work. And I’m not talking about gossip blogs. Those are about connections and scoops.

    No, there might not be a Daily News or a need for a paper news publication but news is still happening. people get shot, politics happens, things that need to be written about and investigated. a blogger who sits at home is not going to do that i’m sorry. you need reporters, writers, journalists. blogs are good for little bits but many times their sources are from a print publication or a website that does real reporting but someone has to do the work

    I think people are confusing the few opportunities that there are now in urban with journalism being dead. it used to be easy to just survive on writing for a few hip-hop magazines or something but you can’t anymore. so yeah, try harder. you can’t just get by off your name. urban publications are suffering for a number of reasons and music journalism especially because of the music industry. the business models are old and if no one cares about changing it then they’ll die out

    obviously you need to make money to survive. if your real passion is writing but you feel like you can’t make money doing it then by all means do something else, do it on the side or get a new skill set. that doesnt mean that writers shouldn’t pursue what they care about. Business school is a great idea if you know your focus

    I admire writers like imani dawson and even toure (though I can’t take his pessimism) who’ve been able to expand their resumes. I think that’s where we’re headed

  26. carlitomachete Says:

    @ Michael: just peeped your blog, and my man, you just gained a new fan. PLEASE keep on keepin’ on, sky-is-falling proclamations be damned.

  27. mc Says:

    Aliyah, Joyce D. hipped me to your blog and I love it! Keep it up, girl! I am a journalist, turned TV producer, turned casualty, turned non-profit program director, turned flight attendant–but always a writer! I think you are on-point with your views on the changing world of journalism. if you are willing to hustle AND are flexible, you can survive. Actually, I think with the advent of social media and e-publishing outlets there are numerous new media opportunities for the vanguard. Congrats on your novel!

  28. mc Says:

    oops! sorry for the H in your name. spelled it like my niece’s name. BAD former journalist!

  29. carlitomachete Says:

    @ la negrita: gracias for the (ahem!) retweet of sorts. =)

    i agree with you a gazillion percent. i’m sayin’, i knock no one’s hustle, but it irks me ungodly when laypeoples see only the finished product (the magazine, the book, the article, the movie, the TV show, the webisode) and somehow calculate that the getting-there wasn’t some seriously stress-inducing, sleep-depriving marathon of hard-ass work.

    John Truby, a noted “screenwriting guru” and author of The Anatomy of Story (a book i wholeheartedly DEMAND that aspiring writers read, study and refer to forever), says that writing, specifically storytelling, is as difficult a profession as surgery. i’m inclined to agree, only i have no idea how hard it is to be a surgeon.

    i do, however, know how much brainwork it takes me to find the perfect word that fits into the perfect sentence that punctuates the perfect paragraph. and as contempo pop-culture continues its descent into mediocrity (oy! now i sound like an old man!), i realize that all these migraines may be for nathan.

    but for me, when a respected peer, a happenstance reader or some newbie scribe gives me even such seemingly insignificant props as a Facebook thumbs up for something i’ve written — even if off the top, like this — it all becomes worth a thousand times the price of Excedrin.

  30. carlitomachete Says:

    @ la negrita, again: perused your blog, and am very much diggin’ it, sis. despite the nature of some of the subject matter, your voice soothes. VERY difficult to accomplish. and VERY dope that you have.

    my condolences re: your friend.

  31. clove Says:

    interesting insight on this very topic

  32. Dimitry Says:

    Of course Touré is right. Journalism was barely healthy enough to make family-raising money for 30 and 40 somethings at the turn of the 21st century when I left the game. Today, what passes for journalism is, from what I hear, paying ‘salaries’ that amount closely to what interns were getting paid in the ’90s. If people put their money where their hearts are, then the dramatic decline of journalism salaries in recent years confirms Touré’s point.

    Sounds to me, from reading Aliya’s counter-argument, that journalism is dead, but copy-writing is alive and well. I hope people realize they are 2 dramatically opposed occupations.

    What I’m curious to learn more about is, if everyone is OK with becoming marketers, where do you go to get critical thinking about culture, markets, and social development?

  33. la negrita Says:

    @carlito Thanks for the love and condolences.

  34. carlitomachete Says:

    @ clove: you beat me to it!! LOL!! that’s the article I’d mentioned in my post. Had me thinking so much I emailed it to a gang of like-minded ilk. And then when I saw Asking’s post today, I couldn’t help feel like we’re all very tuned in to the zeitgeist, y’know?

    thanks for posting!!

  35. clove Says:

    @Dimitry that’s all semantics. journalism can’t be dead if CNN and MSNBC and Time and all these news organizations and magazines are actually still around. As long as these places exist, so does journalism. it’s the dispersal of news through a certain medium and that’s still happening. i think it’s even more relevant now that anybody with a computer can disperse news. it’s not dead. it’s just different channels and ways of attaining information

  36. putyrdreams1st Says:

    Hey Aliya,

    This comment thread is MAD long so i haven’t read it all, but I will say that fortunately, I’ve always been on the business side of writing, infusing THAT world with creative normally associated with fiction, poetry, and the craft of journalism. I’ve been blessed to have a career as a writer in journalism for trade mags, consumer mags, and as an advertising writer for Sony. It should be noted that most of the mags I wrote for (Gavin, Launch [now Yahoo!], Honey, Blaze and Jewel) are dead. Had I not been open to and excited about writing advertising for Sony, my writing career would be too. Instead, my writing campaigns for the Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and Stillmatic have immortalized me, though I receive no outward credit. They paid the bills lovely too. I even won some Telly Awards.

    killahills, my view is that the soul-selling happens based upon what you catch the check for and whether you sell your creative soul in the process, not by virtue of the area of writing you work in. I’ve NEVER relied on journalism to make a living as a writer, so while I disagree with Toure’s heavyhanded and pessimistic assessment (I mean, it’s easy for HIM to say all that after such a storied print career and books under one’s belt pre-social media and blogsphere) I do think writers need to be as diversified and agile as possible. Now we need to be able to write for the web, for print, for advertising, for radio and TV. These are crafts unto themselves, like novel writing or non-fiction authoring (my latest 7-year sojourn while holding down a FT job writing), and take time to perfect. Each is equally competitive in its own respect.

    All that ‘lady/gentleman of leisure at the laptop’ like Kathleen Turner’s character in ‘Romancing The Stone’ or more recently, Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw in SITC–is a WRAP. Like the music world and its murder of artist develoment, the publishing world too has slowed with its support and development of authors and are looking to us to work harder and not just write the work, but market, promote and publicisize it. FURTHER, as with music, the monetary value of our work has plummeted to a floor called FREE thanks to the digital space. It’s up to us to figure out how to increase the value of our content, because people will spend for it if they want it.

    Why you think me, you, and Toure’ are on Twitter? LOL–to edify our bylines as BRANDS so it converts to sale of our products or revenue generating opportunities. Snobbery about writing ads versus articles? Next to no room for that.

    Clinkscales is right. A seismic shift is underway, and the more equipped you are as a writer, the better one’s chances of survival and thriving on the other side of it.

    That said, I’ve never been one to poke a hole in the dream of another. Hey new writers: go to journo school if you want. I didn’t. I learned on the job with an International Relations/Ethnic Studies undergrad degree. Just be prepared to GRIND like a muhfu*ka when you get out, like 2Pac fresh outta jail.

    Props to ALL the writers. And Godspeed.

  37. carlitomachete Says:

    @putyrdreams1st: i shoulda know’d that was YOU!!


    and props right back to you for the book, for the career!!


  38. Incilin Says:

    Toure is right in almost every way.

    You got a job doing marketing for a restaurant, and your telling me that’s journalism? I will agree that you still make a living as a writer using the skills you picked up as a journalist, but that doesn’t mean your practicing journalism. There are lots of jobs that involve writing and reporting but that doesn’t make someone a journalist. Face it dude; you’re working PR.

    A few years ago I used to work for a advertising company and every month or my coworker Josh (who used to blog for Juicy) used to write a company newsletter to all of our clients, highlighting the most interesting ads. He researched the database of ads, briefly interviewed the staff about their favorite ads, quoted our descriptions, and wrote an article about our current crop of ads. Sure, he was “reporting” and “writing” but does that make him a journalist? Fuck no! You know why? Because the Company paid him to write about the Company! There’s an inherit conflict of interest there. That very conflict of interest is the one journalism is supposed to avoid.

    (Side note: In a lot of ways, PR is the new journalism. People don’t need media organizations to bring them news since the medium is now the internet and everyone has access to it. In a few years, it’ll pretty much be PR people as content generators and bloggers and such as the general public who responds. Instead of having a quasi-journalist bring you some spin, you’ll get it directly from the spin masters themselves (like Karl Rove on Fox) and people will be left to make up their own mind. But since people are stupid (which is why there’s such a small audience for thoughtful writing) they’ll get totally duped in any inane form of “news.”)

    When I first read Toure’s comments they hurt my feelings too, but so what? He’s the only dude keeping it 100; Many of my professors have been telling me to go ahead and do journalism while they can barely find work themselves. I’m taking Toure’s advice and trying to find work outside of journalism, but something that still allows me to write (which is what my passion is anyhow). And I never gave really cared about making a lot of money. But I gotta have a job. No, it’s not really my dream job. But some dreams stay dreams.

    And yes, it is irresponsible to tell everyone to follow their dreams. Even in the good old days, it was crazy difficult to get into and become someone in the world of journalism (In the excellent Freakanomics, they refer to it as a tournament system with many, many rounds). But here’s the biggest problem; there are more journalism students now then every before (It’s become a popular alternative to liberal arts or English majors). How you gonna tell all of them to go ahead knowing damn well that there are fewer spots to have? You admit that only a few enterprising people will find a way, shouldn’t people just quit now before they go hard at something that just won’t happen? And for the people who are that determined (or hard headed), won’t they be the ones who read Toure’s Tweets and not give a fuck and go that much harder anyway?

    Toure is right. Journalism is dead.

  39. Mignon Says:

    I’m just starting out in this writing game but I feel I have the ambition to make it. I am a person driven SOLELY by passion.


    I gave up studying medicine in undergrad to pursue… wait for it….wait for it…. MODERN DANCE!!! My parents along with everyone else I knew thought that I was crazy but I felt like my gifts will make room for me and they have.

    Along with designing movement for the stage, I love creating works of art through my writing. I feel like I’m good at it and honestly, I pay no attention to those who choose to dwell on the negative side of things.

    Everything is about forward movement and along with that idea, journalism will continue to evolve in ways we never would have imagined ( I’m with you on that one Aliya!). Social media will absolutely change the idea of journalism. Its the very thing I’m studying in graduate school…. New Media Communications. A huge part of that phenomenon is social media.

    I think this is why I’m falling away from calling myself a journalist and am thinking of referring to myself as a communicator. I communicate by telling stories, blogging, tweeting, facebooking… all of it. I’m trying to communicate to people about life. How can I reach people if I want to be segregated from them by choosing not to immerse myself in social media? It’s the only way that we as writers/communicators will know what people need to read or even what they want to read.

    In my heart, I am a writer and a dancer. These are two things that in most cases wont make you rich, but I totally feel like I’m wealthy because I get the opportunity to do them and do them well.

    Call me naive if you wish, but this attitude is how I continue to keep the faith that my passions will make room for me to support my family and let my children know that all things are possible.

    I am realistic to know that ambition wont keep Sprint from turning off my cell phone. So, if I need to take up a side hustle to get the bills paid I will do that. But I’m fortunate enough to have a husband who is supportive (both financially and emotionally ) and has as much faith in my abilities as I do.

    Your faith in the industry does throw a bit of lighter fluid on my fire for journalism and I appreciate that.

    I really do appreciate that.

  40. Shaina Says:

    I want to thank you for responding to this so-called death of Journalism. Personally I always wanted to be a journalist but other things came in the way. To cut a long story short I am currently on the verge of going for my Masters in Journalism. I am also interning at a magazine company and working really hard in putting some articles together. Being a Journalist has been in my heart from since I was in the single digit age of 9. Now in my mid-twenties I realize that as much as I run away from it, the magazine and broadcasting industries is where I see myself doing something I love.

    Before reading your post I was so scared about the industry. I am actually giving up a MBA in Media Management for a MA in Journalism. Thank you for shining some light on the future of journalism.


  41. Jackie H. Says:

    This is a hawt post although some of the comments were way too long…Journalism has been a hard sell in terms of making money for generations…nothing new about that…but what is new, obviously, is that the Internet has made the stories that we write accessible for free and 24-hours a day…gone are the days when we have to wait until the morning to get the latest news…Journalism as we’ve known it for generations is dead…but such is life…nothing is static, and journalism is going through a growing phase…we will always need people who are willing to observe life and write about it…but how will that translate into money today…not sure yet…Someone once told me this…if the field is relatively easy to get into at the ground level, very few will make money at it…however, if the field is hard to get into at the ground level, all that get into it will get money…i.e. doctors…we’ve got too many journalists and writers out there for this thing to be lucrative…if making money is your goal, you just gotta do something else…if you are motivated by other ideals, be a journalist or a writer…and yes, you have to diversify and get into other communication arenas…i.e. pr – my goal, as Aliya simply and eloquently it, is to be able to write from home. And that I’ve been blessed to do…

  42. SoSoulfull Says:

    Congrats on the gig A! I’m not in the least bit concerned about the future of journalism. The arena is evolving not dying and those that truly understand that and move along with the current, will do just fine. When I was in HS, I wanted to be a journalist so bad and even ended up being the EIC of our HS newspaper, but then after graduating, *queue dramatic music* the real world set in. I ditched my journo passion for a ‘desk job’ and luckily, I found a gig that allows me to watch the industry transform itself from the inside/out. Ultimately, I write because I’m passionate about it and whether I have a million eyes on my works or just one, I would purse this regardless of money.

    O yea, social media can’t save journalism, but it will help to enhance its presence/reach.

  43. Michael Says:

    @Carlito. Thanks so much. I really appreciate that!!

  44. tyrone Says:

    Aliya, I think you said it best: ‘Journalism isn’t dying, it’s changing’. Writers will simply have to be more inventive when it comes to feeding their passions,

  45. serenakim Says:

    i completely agree with Incilin.

  46. Is Twitter blog being weird and slow for some people or is it just my computer? | twitter and cash Says:

    […] Journalism 101: Is Touré Right? « Aliya S. King […]

  47. Bill Says:

    Thanks for this refreshing perspective. I agree that things are changing dramatically, in many arenas, but that those who are willing to be flexible and experiment will be able to find a niche. I’m a writer myself, and while I sometimes find the changes in the field scary, frustrating or disappointing I also have moments (which I think are my wiser moments) when I am invigorated and excited about where were going and what is becoming possible. People always hate and resist change, but change isn’t death. I have found some other provocative and hopeful interviews with top journalists at,com_sectionex/Itemid,200076/id,8/view,category/#catid69 The site has helped me keep things in perspective and has offered some really amazing insights into where the future of journalism might be headed.

  48. Jenna Marie Christian Says:

    I love you Aliya! I always leave your blog so motivated and ready to tackle the world. :-)

  49. Paul Says:

    True hustler.
    Love it.

  50. Thinking « Becoming A Woman Says:

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  51. Claire Says:

    Late to this discussion, but wanted to join in. I came into journalism on the cusp of the slow decline of print and the rise of digital. I complemented articles I was writing for several national magazines with my own blog that I started three years ago, and eventually quit my job (before they started laying people off!) to move to Paris. I was just tired of working in an office, but I digress.

    My blog definitely doesn’t support me 100%, but it pays a few bills, and I also manage to freelance for a few magazines on websites still. The unintended advantage of living in France, however, is that you can make a living teaching English and translating (something I didn’t come here with the intention of doing, but fell into nonetheless). Now I’m getting hundreds of Euros (1.7 Euro = $1) to translate everything from legal documents to cover letters and resumes.

    My point is this: we all can manage to satisfy our writing passions, but as I’m sure many previous comments have maintained, you have to get mad creative.
    Perhaps it’s managing Twitter pages for Yummy’s, spearheading marketing and publicity for a beauty company, or teaching English.

    I was recently asked by a Parisian designer to handle ‘guerilla marketing’ (Twitter, Facebook), and I said…why not?

    I’m not sure every writer goes into the biz to make money…I mean they can’t even pay you decently to intern (sad foreshadowing)! But as a few people said prior, diversify your resume…pursue marketing parttime, freelance for online publications, even consider writing a series of Ebooks! Yeah. I’m doing a bit of it all while teaching French teenagers English via rap songs. So.
    Think outside the box!

  52. New Model Minority Says:

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  53. George Miele Says:

    Your article has really peaked my interest. I am going to book mark your ƅlog and keep ϲhеcking for new details

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