We’ve had a steady stream of bright high school and college students interning at our office over the years. It is heartening to get to know these young people, many of whom aspire to careers in print journalism even as the future of the industry faces so much uncertainty.
I’m one of those (perhaps naive) believers that there will always be people who want to read something they can hold on to — perhaps not newspapers, because we all want our news delivered in real time, but certainly magazines, which offer opportunities for reflection, perspective, in-depth reporting, analysis and beautiful photography.
First, they should become fluent in the technology of multimedia journalism. Focusing solely on print is short-sighted. I believe the future is about packaging information in various ways to appeal to the many different ways that people learn. Some of us are auditory learners. Some of us are visual learners. Some of us are kinesthetic learners that crave interactivity. Information delivery can now address all of these learning styles and tomorrow’s journalists have to be malleable enough to work in any of several modes. They need to learn about podcasting, video production, even writing basic HTML code. The most marketable people in the field right now are those who can do it all.
Second, they must keep up to date on current trends in social media and its role in information dissemination. I find it interesting that most of our interns are not using Twitter. They see it as something that “older” people use. Still, I recommend that they learn about it. (The Social Media Bible is a good place to start.) It is important to pay attention to the ways people are getting information and be adaptable to it.
Third, they can’t ignore the business and marketing aspects of our field. When I went to journalism school and first started my career in newspapers, the reporters/editors were pretty haughty and disdainful of the whole idea of self-promotion and marketing. We can no longer afford to be that way. The best reporters (and I count my son among them) have learned the value of viral marketing — and know how to use it judiciously and appropriately. That means being very targeted in your approach.
With so many sources of information available out there, no journalist (except perhaps those still employed by major metropolitan newspapers) can afford to sit back and passively hope that people will discover their brilliant work. Finding an audience takes patience, persistence and perseverance.
The plethora of tools available to create content require a relatively minimal investment compared to financial barriers of entry involved in print journalism. And yet it is the investment of time and emotional energy — and the gift of storytelling — that draws readers, regardless of the medium.
To my generation, the new technology seems wondrous and magical. After interviewing and working with many of tomorrow’s young journalists, I can say with certainty that they still see a great deal of magic in the permanence and reality of print.