Thursday, June 4, 2009

The journalist class of 2015

I have a friend who teaches journalism at a local university. Over dinner one night, she complained about how little her students read the newspaper. She rightly pointed out that it would be hard for them to understand how to write for a newspaper without reading one. I agreed with her on that point, but flipped the tables and asked her, if they they were taking a journalism course but not planning to write for a newspaper, where were they planning to look for jobs.

There are two points in play here.

One is kids just are not reading the newspaper. Nobody is. The decline in readership has been well documented by the Pew Research Center and others, so there is no need to belabor the point here, except to note that young people read newspapers less than old people.

If you are older, you have a habit of reading the newspaper, but kids today grew up in the 24/7 world of the Internet and MTV. They have shorter attentions spans and it's not all about ADHD. The world comes at them faster and it's edited faster. If you need empirical proof of this, take a look at how a movie from the 1960's is cut and edited. The scenes play out much longer than today's movie, and it's not just the thrillers.

Here's the problem, the people who labor for newspapers, those who own them and the paper's reader have a mistaken belief that the world needs their services. Tell that to the telegraph industry. Not too long ago, reporters filed stories by telegraph and I remember learning Morse Code as a kid when I had a two-way walkie-talkie.

The other day, while driving my 11 year-old daughter we started talking about the Air France disaster and how the pilots might have put out an SOS. As I started to talk about how the international distress signal came about (the three long, three short bursts are for even non-experts to understand in the telegraph language of Morse Code) she asked me, "What's a telegraph?"

In her 11 years on this planet, she has not read a book or seen a movie that featured a telegraph, and let me tell you she has read plenty of books and seen lots of movies.

In 30 years time, her kids will ask her, "Mommy, what's a newspaper?"

So back to my original question and my second point, if the kids today don't plan to write for newspapers, who will write them a paycheck? I could be wrong, but I don't think there is an answer for that, which has huge implications how we get our information about the world around us and how we hold politicians accountable for the actions.

My question to you: in the new media, what are the new reporters going to do?

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