Smile: Journalism Is Going To Be OK!

I love to go to Wal-Mart. Yes, that Wal-Mart. Because everywhere you go in the store, there are smiley’s. I love the smiley. It is a sign of happiness and optimism.

Growing up as a child of the ’80s (high school c/o ’85, college c/o ’90), I’m a huge fan of Ronald Reagan. If you’re my age or older, you remember the stagflation, recession and general malaise of the ’70s. It seems as if journalism is heading for it’s own malaise in the last year or two.

Of course it is easy to be depressed about declining newspaper circulation numbers, declining nightly news ratings, declining reading rates and more. We can be depressed about it, or we can ask ourselves “Is it the medium or the message?”

I have a feeling it is the medium. As the Chinese say, “I hope you live in interesting times.” It is a curse that they use.

But I’d rather live in today’s media world than that of my youth or the “golden age” of top down journalism. Had I lived then, I’d either be a teacher (like I am now) or a drone working for a giant newspaper filing my daily stories and typing out my 1-3 thousand words a day. I’d never have to take a picture or shoot video. And reader feedback would be limited to those 4-5 letters we printed each day.

I love my job. I get to teach video, photo, writing, web, designing, and much more. Moving to the web has reinvigorated our journalism program. We were getting dull and dusty. More multimedia is helping to attract the best and the brightest to the journalism program. This is a good thing. We are not just seen as nerdy writers who also take pictures.

Now, we’re the cool kids. We do all that stuff on the school web site. The internet is where these kids live. It is the future of our business. Instead of whining about it, we need to find a way to charge into it. Be brave, blaze a trail. If your content is rich and vibrant, then people will follow. The only reason to be afraid is that you really are dull and boring. And even so, wake up, look at what is out there and emulate it. There is some really cool stuff on the net.

Stop being gloomy. Journalism will survive this. So what if you work for a google or yahoo instead of the New York Times or NBC. They’re just brand names after all. People will always want and need information. If you learn the skills necessary to find, distill and relay that information in an interesting way, or in a way that people can actually use – then someone will reward you for it.

What I think is that too many journalists are scared that they won’t survive this change. And if they don’t wake up to the potential of the web, then they are right. They will be left behind by journalists who do get it. Multimedia is the wave of the future. We must learn to use it to tell stories. But we must also layer our multimedia with rich, multi-layered content.

On the internet it is the content that will drive them to your site. You can’t just recycle AP stories and call that content, it must be new, original, useful, layered, and multimedia. And lastly, it ain’t that hard. Kids do it every day on myspace. We are trained, college educated journalists.

Step away from the typewriter, grab a camera, open an application, get your mouse and start learning how. Will it always be easy, no! But we can do it. We will do it, or we will perish. And those that won’t learn how to survive in the wired world deserve to perish.

But enough with the navel gazing, the rehashing of missed opportunities and the “woe is me” attitude. We must always believe in the transformative power of story telling. The web is more powerful than any medium before it, because for the first time you can combine words, pictures, video, audio and more. And it is interactive.

“Someone once said that the difference between an American and any other kind of person is that an American lives in anticipation of the future because he knows it will be a great place. Other people fear the future as just a repetition of past failures.” – Ronald Reagan

We can’t let fear of the future keep us from moving journalism forward. We must all be optimists. So remember to smile the next time someone asks you about the future of journalism. Because we haven’t even begun to imagine what cool things we will be able to do yet.

Mr. C

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