State of…Journalism

So I had a repetitive conversation in a local bar last night. Its the same conversation I have every time someone I just met asks me about my major.

“So, where do you go to school?”


“What are you majoring in?”

“Journalism and Legal Studies.”

At this point most people look surprised, and then they get this knowing sort of look on their face. The kind that says “This kid’s a dreamer, an idealist.” Then comes the next comment, sure as the sun rises in the East.

“So you’re planning on going to law school, right?” (That’s why you’re doing Legal Studies as well, right? ‘Cause everyone knows…)

And when they hear that I’m planning on trying my hand at being an actual, real journalist first, like one of those that interview people and write news stories for people to read, hear, watch, comment on, etc., they get one of two looks. The first is either a modified version of the look I’m already getting, the all-knowing smirk, or they smile like I just told them someone ran over my dog.

“Do you think you can actually make a career out of that?” (…that journalism is dead.)

And then they’re even more surprised when I tell them that, “Yes, yes I do.”

And then they ask me why. These are a few common responses: “Newspapers are dying. No one has any trust in media anymore, and its justified, in my honest opinion. People are becoming more and more ignorant and polarized by the day, look at the fact that Bill O’Reilly/Rachel Maddow are so widely followed. NO ONE CARES ABOUT MEDIA!” (The last one is a combination of various arguments, usually presented very furiously.)

To which I remind them: “Well, when you want to know what happened with something in Iran, in Europe, in Washington, in the next town over, where do you look? You look on TV, in a newspaper, online, but you always check the media first.”

In a lecture he gave last April at the University of Kentucky, John S. Carroll, former editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times (thanks to PoynterOnline for the transcript) summed up very well what I think about media and its future.

“There will be journalism in the future. And the journalism of the future will have tools unlike any imagined by earlier generations.

You will have new tools for finding things out, and tools to send your stories to the entire world at the speed of light.

Journalism has always been a one-way bulletin from journalist to public. Now it is a conversation with millions of participants, which gives us access to new facts and new ideas.

Thanks to hyperlinks, you can write accordion-like stories that can be expanded to match each reader’s degree of interest. One person might give your story ten seconds; another might spend a rewarding half day with it.

The journalism of the future will be flexible, making fluid use of video, audio and text to tell stories as they can best be told.”

Now I can’t speak as eloquently as John Carroll, but I feel that this perfectly sums up why I feel there is still hope for journalism. It may be changing, but it will always be there. Humans are the only creatures on the planet with an interest in what goes on halfway around the world, and with the drive to do something about it, and the intelligence to care.

It comes down to one simple principle: humans need media.


5 thoughts on “State of…Journalism

  1. thager401

    It doesn’t help that we are entering in the worst possible market for journalism. Journalism will always be there, but it feels like it will be the same people who have been doing it since before we were in college.

  2. Cara Harshman

    First of all, whoever is asking you if you can actually make a career out of journalism today is ignorant. Have the people you quoted giving you these comments been living under a rock?
    In my opinion this is the most exciting time to enter the world of journalism because there are no barriers to entry. Journalism is happening all around us, and today we have so many more ways to capture it. To be sure, as future journalists today we must be masters of more than just writing (like journalists in the past) but video, audio, photography and interactive material is exciting!
    Don’t let those drunk, lame people you are shmoozing with at the bar get you down. It’s a great time to get out there and report!

  3. Erin

    Alicia, I get these same comments all the time. “Newspapers are dying …. people are losing their jobs…”
    Journalism is not irrelevant. Although the times may be changing and newspapers are now competing with online journalism and alternative sources of information, journalism is still alive in our society. Like Cara said, journalism IS happening all around us. Citizen journalists are taking advantage of the internet and the ever-emerging technological modes of reporting.
    My dream is still to report at a large newspaper … to be a print reporter. I think journalism students who want to report in the print industry will have a harder time finding jobs, yes, but what will make them marketable is their ability to use alternative modes of communication. Journalists today need to know how to network, how to shoot photos and video, and how to blog.
    I think the more pertinent conversation that should emerge out of this topic is this: If more and more people are engaging in communication and citizen journalists are increasing in number, who counts as a journalist? What is the line between citizen journalist and professional journalist?

  4. adamjholt

    I’ve actually found out that when I’ve spoken to people about my journalism career post-UW, they tend to agree with the growth of online journalism. They ask about how I’m going to deal with newspapers “dying” and such, but there are always magazines and other news outlets that do a great job with providing online content that’s either exclusively online, or has other features that supplement print versions.
    It’s been kind of reassuring actually, based on my experiences talking with others about the state of journalism. There’s obviously the pessimistic side to the issue, but seeing “older” (middle-aged, 40+) people agree that journalism and reporting is moving in a new direction gives me confidence that not only is the industry going to stay alive, but that the audience is willing to shift in whatever direction journalism itself is going.


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