Friday, March 14, 2008

The new era of journalism

In Thursday's class, we spoke with Rich Gordon, a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Gordon talked about the way technology is changing the newspaper industry. We had read an article Gordon wrote several years ago for Online Journalism Review in which he asserts that technological development makes it an exciting time to work in journalism. In his conference call with us, Gordon said that what matters right now is not whether the big corporations survive the changes in the industry, but whether journalists can continue to provide citizens with the information they need for a democratic society to function.

He pointed out that while sales and circulation of papers are down, the Internet is not to blame because circulation has been flat for decades. It is the business model of daily print papers that is deteriorating and in fact, more people are reading the news than ever before, he said. I hope this is true, but I am still going down kicking and screaming. I love what the Internet can do for journalism, and I love knowing that people around the world can read my work, but for me, nothing will replace the experience of spreading the real newspaper out in front of me and reading while drinking a cup of tea (usually having to stop every few minutes because the cat is lying on the paper).

As we did in last week's teleconference with Mark Briggs, we discussed the way our generation will be affected by these new technologies. Gordon said that it will be today's students (and graduates) who will develop new business models and new jobs within the industry. Like Briggs, Gordon said that the key for us is to have the skills for entry-level reporting and editing jobs but also be adaptable to learn the new tools of the industry. ...

Without even being asked, Gordon did acknowledge the one thing that makes me anxious when I hear people who are working in the industry (or who, like Gordon, are now teaching) talk about what is happening in the industry now. It's easy for those people who have jobs to say that this is an exciting time for journalists. I agree that there are exciting possibilities. It is not, however, an exciting time to be looking for newspaper jobs. I'm sure they're out there, and I am confident in my abilities; but it's scary to hear people talk about the decline of the industry. I remember being at my internship in Washington, D.C., and joking with my boss about how we'll all wind up working at a certain "big box" store when the industry crashes. My response was that if I can't be a journalist, I'll get a doctorate and become an English professor. All that being said, I'm encouraged to hear that not everyone thinks the future is so bleak. I hope Gordon is right in his assertion that keeping journalism alive is all a matter of developing new business models. I just hope the public is on board and continues to ask for (and respect) the type of journalism that I want to do.


L.Ruggeri said...

I really enjoyed hearing Gordon's opinions; it's nice to hear someone with some optimism. It's good to know that there is a chance to do some really interesting work for journalism with the new technology available to us. That being said, I agree with you that there is nothing like being able to hold a newspaper in your hands and spread it out to read, especially with a cup of tea.

Joaquin Chapa said...

What I liked about Gordon was that the optimism had some substance and logic behind it. Supply and demand are magical forces and there are very few industries that fail as long as there is still a demand for the product. Sure, they change, but someone always comes up with a way to make things work. It's hard to take a leap of faith into an industry undergoing upheavals, but I think it's safe to say that people aren't going to stop demanding news anytime soon.