In 2001, I had to choose between going to graduate school to study creative nonfiction at Columbia, or accepting a job at CNN as a documentary filmmaker. I chose the job (after I saw the tuition at Columbia), but it turns out that both paths -- magazine writing and documentary filmmaking -- were essentially dead ends as careers with health care benefits, salaries and such.
Our documentary program, CNN Presents, no longer exists (CNN outsources all of its long-form journalism now), and magazines -- even and especially the most innovative ones -- are finding that their awesome original content is really just a window display for the real revenue stream: acting as creative agencies for businesses and organizations that want experienced "storytellers" to sell their product.
The pioneer and clear breakout star in this field is the Vice media empire. I worked on their video side in 2009-2010, back when I thought CNN was soulless and corporate, and Vice represented a kind of raw, independent journalism.
There was one subject they weren't interested in investigating and attacking, though: the people who run everything and have tons of money to spend on advertising. The kind of advertising that Vice's marketing department could provide to the demographic that Vice delivered: young men who love skateboards and naked models.
Recently I huddled with another former Vicer, and the question came up: Is Vice the future of journalism, or the future of advertising?
This month I started a fellowship at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY, so I've had the opportunity to think through these issues in a more systematic way. So far I'm feeling pretty good that my innovative journalism model -- Tarbell Cocktails and Conspiracy -- is alcohol-based. You gotta choose your vices, and at this point, an addiction to corporate money seems like the greater of two evils.