Dear journalism student: Don’t worry, be happy
It is an important question - a question where the opinion you get will be different every time it is asked, a question that has been asked a lot recently. But most of all, it is a question that may not be easy to answer at first, but allows a great debate and eye as to where this industry will go.
Where is journalism going?
It is a debate worth having, in an age where solutions to this particular question are being played out every day to address current topics, from the future of newspapers in the face of new directions in advertising, the future of news on television and radio, to the rise of the web and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter that have created new thinking on not just the language of journalism, but also the consumption of journalism, and the expectations the people we serve have of us in this tech savvy age.
Today, Margaret Sullivan, the public editor of The New York Times, wrote a post on her blog on the subject, based on her observations of that paper and that of her previous employer, The Buffalo News in New York state. Sullivan refers to an article by Phil Fairbanks of the News, in which the mayor had been seen as perhaps running a play to pay scheme with regard to real estate developers and their politics. Fairbanks had been looking into this, and kept asking the questions readers wanted to know about those in city government.
It is a similarity struck at the Times, where questions are asked of leaders in Washington and around the world, to try to give the readers the full story, and in an age of cutbacks on reporters, news organizations, and indeed observers of the industry like Sullivan, have been inquiring what this means for the state of reporting, and moreover, how the decline in reporting can be circumvented for the digital age, in order for it to be guaranteed to thrive.
Her post comes as the Tribune Company spins off its newspapers, including its flagship papers in Chicago and Los Angeles, and news that newsroom staff has declined approximately 30 percent since 2003, according to data from the American Society of News Editors cited by Sullivan.
The fiscal circumstances that have unfolded, not just within the past week but within the last few years, led to some pessimism on the outlook of the industry, from those in it, to those students completing degrees in the many colleges and universities across the country who are studying it (myself included).
As I prepared to finish my degree a few months ago, I asked myself questions about where journalism lies in the new digital culture of ours, and if indeed I would be able to land feet first in the industry without stumbling over. It was a worry I had, a worry, I will admit, I still have somewhat. But I realized I needn’t fear.
To paraphrase the quote from Mark Twain: “The reports of journalism’s death have been greatly exaggerated.”
In the next few weeks, schools will be back in session, and many a journalism student who will look to finish their degree and make a mark on the industry, will likely consider their future, and what it will be like, wondering, perhaps with worry, if a job can be secured at the end of the fourth year.
Journalism, in this new age of technology, has been presented with many opportunities, in the face of many risks. Journalism students will need to do more to stand out and make themselves known, instead of sitting still and thinking about that party Saturday night, from work on other web sites to networking, including on Twitter and LinkedIn.
However, and as Sullivan wrote in her post, there will always be journalism and a need for journalists, whatever the means, whether its behind a camera, or behind the computer.
“What matters is the journalism, not the medium,” Sullivan said. “It’s happening before our eyes, and while there’s clearly reason to worry, there’s reason to hope, too.”
It is my hope that those students who head back to school will remember this and remain confident of their efforts and their potential, but also to keep this in mind - the more time you put in, the better off you’ll be.
We will always need journalists. It may not be in the medium or environment you expect to be in, but know that you’ll always be needed, and that’s a promise. Don’t worry, be happy.
Alex Veeneman is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists based in Chicago. Veeneman also serves as Special Projects Editor and writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. The views in this post are his own. You can tweet him @alex_veeneman or email firstname.lastname@example.org.