Preparing Journalists: For How Long?

As a teacher of high school journalists, I wonder, just what are we preparing these kids for anyway? I’ve been a teacher of journalism for 12 years, and I worked at a PBS station on a college campus for 2 1/2 years before that. So, for nearly 15 years I’ve been preparing kids to become journalists or work in the media. In the last 3 years I’ve had a lot of success, several of my students have gone on to college to pursue careers in RTV-Film, Communications and Journalism.

I try to encourage them, and I haven’t got the heart to tell them that I wonder if journalists will even exist in 20 years. The technology that has set journalism free may also be killing the goose that laid the golden egg. The internet, which has made it easier than ever to be a journalist and get your message to the audience, is also killing journalism.

If you haven’t been paying attention, newspapers are dying. Ad revenue is down, news web site revenue is flat, classified are on Craig’s list, used cars are sold at autobytel.com, even obits are online now. TV is starting to feel the pinch too. Just as we see more and more channels, we are also seeing a splintering of the audience. The net and TiVo are killing commercials and viewership is down overall. The news is being hit the hardest. Why watch the news when you can get it all on the net? College’s are closing their yearbooks. Independent photographers are having trouble selling photos.

I’m sure a few daily papers will survive USA Today, NY Times, Wall Street Journal. CNN and Fox News will make it too. But what about local or regional news?

It’s not all bad news – Google and Yahoo are starting small news staffs, newspapers are hiring VJ (video journalists), college newspaper ads sales are strong, and most of the skills our students learn in high school journalism translate really well to the web.

But how much longer will what we do be called journalism? Already at my school, I will be teaching 7 classes next year 3 journalism and 3 instructional technology and one that is half of each. I predict that within five years, I’ll be teaching almost no classes that fall under journalism. Yearbook/Newspaper will become Desktop Publishing, Broadcast Journalism will become Video Technology, Photojournalism and Journalism will stop and Web Design and Intro to Mass Media will replace them.

The skills are nearly the same, so the learning curve for me as a teacher is very small. But the output is different. Journalism has a higher calling that is founded in the First Amendment. Journalists have a calling to shine a light on corruption, greed, crime and to hold up our community and nation to a higher standard. The new media does this, but only when they feel like it. Sometimes it goes unwatched, unspoken, unwritten. While the new media has the ability to be almost everywhere, it does not have the deep pockets to do real investigative journalism.

The new IT classes I will be teaching seem to have PR at their heart more than journalism. I’ve always felt that most state and local governments would much rather see high school and even college newspapers go away. They’d rather have a PR instrument like a yearbook, a “GMA” style TV magazine show, or a great web site for the school, etc. Reporting, editorials and unpleasant facts they can do without. For many, the death of real journalism will be seen as a good thing – a barking dog they can do without. For others, they will barely notice it’s passing an ever growing number of schools have lost their newspapers or yearbooks already.

I will continue to try to do my best to prepare my students as journalists. But I fear that the days of journalism are passing right before our eyes. The unfortunate fact is that freedom of the press means that the public can ignore real news in favor of infotainment, “reality TV” and pop culture. A free press is no guarantee of an interested or educated public.

Mr. C

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