Journalism models are changing rapidly. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the craft is dying, says media veteran Mark Effron. At J-schools, students demonstrate the “desire to find out what’s really going on,” and the fact they are anxious “to communicate that through vivid language and strong images, gives me hope for their future, and the future of journalism.”
Who Says Journalism Is A Dead-End Major?
Forget the angst over “fake news” and the threats to journalism. We are living in a new golden age, thanks to the travails and missteps of the Trump administration and the outsized personality of the man in the middle.
During the era of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, led by The New York Times and The Washington Post, (along with a few others and the networks news organizations) there was a thrilling sense of one-upmanship, as each of the top news organizations competed to come up with new revelations, scoops, insights.
Woodward and Bernstein were the role models for us young journalists. I remember Katharine Graham addressing my graduating class at The Columbia University School of Journalism and thinking: someday I will work for that company.
The Post was talking truth to power, was unbowed, and the journalists making the difference were just a little older than I. (I ended up spending over a quarter century at that company, overseeing the news for the Washington Post Co.’s station division.)
And here we are again.
Yes, the journalistic models have been smashed by the end of the print model and the rise of digital, with its uncertain revenue stream. Yes, there are fewer journalists producing less journalism in a bigger digital space that makes it possible for falsehoods to roar like waves over truths.
I marvel at how after an election period where holy data overcame common sense in some cases, journalism is enjoying a golden moment.The sheer amount of stories broken by The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, CNN and so many others is breathtaking. And, unlike in the Watergate era, the stories don’t appear at genteel intervals, like once a day for newspapers, and at 6:30 p.m. for the networks.
No, great journalism breaks out at all times on all platforms. Check your phone at 10 p.m. and thinking you are done for the day doesn’t work if you really care about keeping up. You can feel the urgency as our major journalistic institutions try to outdo themselves and each other.
I teach journalism and television and digital media at Montclair State University. Some of my students tell me that their parents are trying to wave them away from journalism. It’s dying, they tell my students. Nobody reads newspapers. Who watches the evening news? You know the lament.
Evening newscast ratings are up. New York Times digital subscriptions are way up since the election. The Washington Post is hiring. There’s never been a more critical time in my students’ lives than now. Some of them will listen to their parents, I’m sure.
But I can tell the ones who won’t. They are too fired up by the world around them, and their curiosities, and their itch to get a camera in their hand, and a notebook in their back pocket, and get out the door to tell stories.
Their tools will be different; the delivery systems are seemingly morphing every day. But their desire to find out what’s really going on, and the tools to communicate that through vivid language and strong images, gives me hope for their future, and the future of journalism.
To all those who fret about the future of journalism, step back and look at how today’s practitioners are rising to the challenge. And, if you are still not convinced, go visit a local journalism class.
Mark Effron, a veteran media executive, teaches at Montclair State University in New Jersey, and is helping coordinate the launch of a multiplatform newsroom in the university’s new School of Communication and Media headquarters, which is nearing completion.