Tuesday, September 10, 2013

If journalism is dead, it's one impressive zombie

The current editor of my college newspaper has written an interesting defense of her choice to pursue journalism. It's worth a read. It's also prompted my own thoughts about the field.

My stance arises from the experience from someone who has worked in the field, off but mostly on, in some capacity since I was 18, and currently does so.

I've had the same conversation that she, like probably everybody else, has had at some point:

Them: "Where do you work?"

Us: "The newspaper."

Them: "Oh, that's still a thing?"

Anyone who says journalism is dying is wrong. Journalism is not like a horse-drawn carriage, vaudeville or anything else rendered obsolete by technological advancement or changing societal tastes. If anything, more people read news and opinion than ever, and are more connected than ever. Far from being a dying art, journalism is rising as a craft.

So why do people think it's on its way out? Money. The prevailing wisdom is that no one pays for news anymore. That's partially true, because the Internet has significantly reduced the incentive for people to pay for what they read.

But that's true for a million other industries as well. Most fields are suffering, because we're in a lingering recession. A select few are thriving, but it's easy to understand how they wouldn't if present circumstances were different. If oil ever ceased to be profitable, people would stop drilling for it. If computers were ever supplanted by a more advanced technology, IT people would stop servicing them.

But no matter what happens on the ledger side of journalism, people will still get into it. Why? Because like teaching and similar pursuits, journalism is a calling. It's something that will be done as long as society exists (and even if anarchy were to reign). There will always be an audience for investigations, informed editorials, breaking news and other goings-on. And there will always be people inclined to seek out such information and present it in a professional manner.

Don't let the fact that the industry is facing financial setbacks — or, more accurately, that it is dealing with the ever-present encroachment of technology on what was previously a virtual monopoly — journalism remains strong and always will be. Keeping it profitable is a challenge, granted, but is not an insurmountable task. Mistakes might be made, but that's part of the process (and again, one that most sectors are also going through).

Journalism has long been out of the image of its so-called glory years — I've never encountered a gruff, hard-drinking, cigar-chomping editor, nor have the clacking of typewriters and footsteps of darting copyboys ever been part of my experience. But still, I've been privy to my fair share of major changes. It's part of the field, as well as life in general. The truly successful will embrace the changes and roll with the punches. That's what evolution is all about. In that regard, I think journalism is actually better off than many industries.

(If you doubt that, I'll put you on the line with people who get mad when someone gets it wrong. Trust me, they still care. A lot.)

Time will tell how it turns out. And we'll be here to tell you all about it.

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