OLD Media Moves

Age discrimination in journalism, and how to get around it

June 10, 2016

Age discriminationAs layoffs continue to loom in newsrooms across the country, older seasoned reporters need to be aware. Age discrimination is rampant at news organizations, and older reporters better prepare to reinvent themselves and find new ways to make a living, according to a panel of new media experts and observers.

When layoffs and buyouts hit newsrooms, “It always seems to be people who are over 55, people who have a few gray hairs,” said Ralph Bivins, a longtime Houston Chronicle real estate reporter who now runs RealtyNewsReport.com, an online real estate news service. “A lot of my friends are getting whacked.”

Bivins made his comments Thursday in New Orleans as he kicked off a panel, “New Media Species,” at the 50th Annual Real Estate Journalism Conference put on by the National Association of Real Estate Editors. He implored his NAREE colleagues still working in newsrooms to encourage their co-workers to cover the important trend.

“This is age discrimination, and nobody’s writing about it,” Bivins said. “Newspapers don’t hold themselves accountable. Let’s turn the spotlight on us.”

While well-established newspapers owned by huge media groups might practice age discrimination, not all of the blame can be put on them, said Catie Dixon, central U.S. editor of Bisnow, the online commercial real estate news organization that just sold for $74 million.

Bisnow would love to hire seasoned real estate reporters for its markets, but older journalists who have been laid off or taken a buyout aren’t interested in the mobile journalism lifestyle that requires them to go out on interviews, snap photos and write five or six pithy, quick-hit stories a day, Dixon said.

“It’s a struggle to get anyone older on board [at Bisnow],” she told the audience of reporters, communicators and real estate industry leaders. “Every older person would bow out” once they realized the work required.

“We’re not discriminating. Age is discriminating against us,” Dixon added.

Not all older reporters balk at the extra work required of them today, said Bob Moser of upstart GrowthSpotter, a subscription newsletter that covers early-stage real estate stories in Central Florida. “[Orlando Sentinel real estate reporter] Mary Shanklin tweets while I’m asleep — all day every day,” Moser said.

But hope exists. Several people on the NAREE panel, including moderator Bivins, have reinvented themselves and become successful. Former L.A. Times reporter Lauren Beale helped her former paper launch the wildly successful L.A. Times Hot Property e-newletter and its accompanying print editions.

For my part, I urged reporters in the audience to be prepared for having to choose a new career path. While veteran reporters have upheld their end of the bargain and worked hard for their newspapers for years while getting pitiful raises, their employers have not. News organizations like to rid their payrolls of gray-hairs because they have the highest salaries and are in for lifetime media benefits and pension payouts.

I’ve leveraged the relationships I created during 14 years as a real estate reporter to create new PR firms and launch my blog, Skyline Views.

“Start thinking now about what you’re going to do next,” I told the group. “It’s scary, but as reporters you’ve built a brand and have an incredible knowledge base that you can leverage in other fields.”

Tony Wilbert runs a public relations firm Wilbert Public Relations Co. that represents real estate companies

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