Next Generation Journalists

Convener: Nora Paul

Participants: Scott, Jim, Eric, Stephen, Linda

We spent some time in this discussion of “next generation journalists” talking about the current generation – their psyche and attitudes.

Jim said that  a characteristic of today’s journalist is they want to change the world, but too often they impose their own version of what justice and truth is, that they have made it a one-way process.

We talked about the idea of the need to a new process, one that recognizes that there are “multiple truths.”  Jim’s question was, “In the rootstock of the journalists today, do we have the right people to take us to the new vision, to engage the next vision?”

Unfortunately, for the current “rootstalk” the cycle goes something like this:  the cub reporter is assigned to the crime beat and eventually starts to realize people are manipulating them, so they start to get defensive, then they start to get cynical and the cynicism becomes arrogance.

“The poster child for this cycle,” said Jim, “is Ben Bradlee.”

Journalism practice creates an interesting breed of people, but are they the people we need, and is their career development the best approach to creating the kind of people we need in this evolving media environment.

Scott raised the idea that we are facing “Secular, not cyclical, change.  The change going on now is more profound than cycles.”  He talked about a survey on work / life balance in newsrooms which got more than 750 responses.  There were no particular surprises, but when the responses were reported to a journalism and business values conference, the result that 1/3 of the respondents were looking to get out of journalism because of stress, the reaction of the attendees was, “So, good – 2/3 of them are doing ok.”

Scott remarked on the tendency of each generation to look at the next one and say, “How can we leave this to them?”  What is different with this next generation is they have a completely different expectation for what their career will be.  Are they, like the current generation, willing to make sacrifices in exchange for a stable job or are they going have much more fluid relationships with their employers.   The next generation is also being taught different things, different ways to do journalism than what is currently being practiced – so it sets them up for cynicism about the profession.  As Nora said, “Journalism education is ahead of the curve for the first time – often preparing journalists for a newsroom that doesn’t yet exist… “

Scott commented that this next wave journalism, particularly the online media and new storytelling might be exciting and fulfilling to young journalists “but that won’t pay the bills.”

Eric raised the question about the models for helping to transition into new media.   How do you maintain these dual systems, how do you have enough staff.  Analogies to the changes made in the mindset of librarianship as they dealt with a new paradigm for library usage in the age of Google were raised.

Steve brought up the issue of media literacy – and the skills that youngsters are being brought up with, the ability to imagine meaningful combinations of images and words .  Buckminster Fuller alluded to the human brain as continuously making “documentaries” – the notion of media literacy as necessary to making sense of the documentaries that everyone will be making…

Scott picked up on this idea comparing it to the changes in civilization when it moved from a society where few could write to one in which everyone could. “How can the world work if everyone is a journalist?”

Eric commented that in light of this complex information society developing that a core curriculum component should be data-mining.

And Nora followed that with the notion of “story mining.”

Eric imagined a cadre of people who have the creativity of the youthful mind and resources to capture stories.  He talked about a project to give tape recorders to kids in Chicago who then did radio documentaries.

Someone (Eric?) mentioned Vincent Harding – of Illif College in Denver – who created a library called Veterans of Hope.  Now he is bringing in Latino and African American youth in an intergenerational learning process.  How might this provide exemplars and ways to work with emerging journalists?

Everyone got excited about this idea of intergenerational learning.  Steve mentioned Soros’ youth media website.  This is how to get values transmitted in an increasingly fragmenting society.  Eric spoke of the opportunity to take the wisdom of the elders and have them help provide  a frame for a positive vision of the future.

The conversation then moved into idea of collaboration and dialog, particularly in the civic realm and the need to work out a collective dialog about issues.  How might this change both civic leadership and journalism.  There is a need to identify stakeholders and bring them together in functional ways.  Steve said, “Sustainable solutions only come from effective dialog.  We need new models of civic leadership.”

The challenges of infotainment masquerading as journalism and the relationship between journalism and public relations and advertising (“pr and ad – lying for profit”) were raised.  “How will the next generation of journalists parse out the whole question of truth?”

Scott recounted that most of the students in journalism school at Univ. of Minn. were not getting ready to go be journalists but rather to be public relations agents where “the obligation is to the company or the client” (not to the truth?)

Nora said that, in fact, public relations people are doing “journalism” online as more commercial enterprises provide their own editorial content.

Jim went back to the issue of data-mining – talking about huge amounts of granular information out there and that the largest organization in the world in terms of looking for information is Google with 3,000 employees.  They have a sophisticated business model, one in which the user is completely in control.  “Is Google the biggest force in journalism?”

Scott got into a discussion of what journalism is – and what needs to remain (particularly the notion of enterprise / investigative / critical journalism.)  He quoted Marty Linsky of Harvard, “You ought to do only what only you can do!”  Play to your strengths.

We talked about the rise of self-reporting, self-editing Internet tools such as wiki.  Jim said it was becoming clear to him that the people who should be at the table need to include the Wikis and the aggregators, like Google.

In summary:  This was a wide-ranging dialog that hit on various issues related to next generation journalists but also raised issues, and opportunities, around new media literacies and civic engagement / leadership.

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