The “lost” generation of journalists may be my own

In a recent post on Reflections of a Newsosaur, Alan Mutter lamented a lost generation of journalists among those coming out of college right now. He was right about the lost generation, but I think he has the wrong people in mind.

Instead, I think of my own age group – those too young to have ever experienced the heyday of newspapers and too old to live on hope alone.

Sure, there are a lot of journalists coming out of college right now (or in the last year) who will never be able to work in a newsroom as most of us know it, but I think they are better off than one might think. They’ve been trained in multimedia, they’re inexpensive, flexible and are far better prepared to become “new” journalists (mojos, start-up reporters, bloggers) because they never learned the bad habits of “old” journalists. Best of all, idealism is on their side.

No, I believe the truly lost generation of journalists may be my own.

A few days ago, Pat Thornton, an industry blogger and founder of Beatblogging.org posted that he left journalism. In the time I’ve read his work, Pat has always been full of ideas for the industry and he really believed it would change. For him to give up is really saying something.

As Thornton noted, “Maybe I would have been better able to withstand the upheaval in journalism if I had known the good times.”

And he isn’t alone. In response to Thornton’s news, a former classmate of mine, Meranda Watling, tweeted, “I want to believe journalism can make a difference. I haven’t given up yet. But I’m not sure how long idealism sustains you.”

I know this feeling of near hopelessness isn’t confined to our “gap generation” of journalists – but we are victims of some seriously bad timing.

We got to work just as or just before the bust started. Many of us attended journalism school in the late 90s/early 2000s, just as those schools were starting to rethink their focus on the web. If we learned anything about it there, it was half-baked, at best. Some of us got further training on our own or on the job, but many just got laid off (if we got jobs at all).

Consider this: Of all the very talented journalists I knew in my days in Kent State student media – 18 of 25 right off the top of my head are no longer in the business due to layoffs. From my experience, most newspapers killed their young first.

Even those who have managed to stay employed don’t have it so great. We, like everyone else, wait around for the next shoe to drop.  Every potential mentor and helpful editor has lost hope – or their job. If there are older journalists still working alongside us, we tend to catch a lot of the animosity over the widening technology gap.

Like Pat, we have been frustrated watching traditional media flail around looking for a business model, many ignoring much-needed changes in favor of doing what they’ve been doing for decades. Maybe we try to push change and just end up more isolated. Maybe we gave up a long time ago and are just going through the motions.

We can try to go on to other journalism jobs, but we’re up against experienced veterans put out of work by layoffs and kids right out of school who will work for (sometimes literally) nothing. Competition is a lot more fierce than it was even five years ago.

Eventually, my generation may have to leave journalism altogether. I know I’ve thought about it a lot, but I’m just not ready. News is too much a part of my life to take a backseat – at least, not until all the options run out. Part of me wants to stick around to see if it’ll ever be what I thought it’d be like – and another part admires Thornton for having the guts to give  up that ghost while he still has time to make a long career doing something else.

While I think journalism in some format will still be around for the long haul, I have to wonder how many people my age will still be around to contribute. More importantly, will anyone care?

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  • http://twitter.com/joshloftin Josh Loftin

    I am also a member of the lost generation, having started in 1996 as a correspondent for a daily paper while still in college. I want to see the rebirth of journalism, but fear that our generation will escort the current form of journalism to its grave, and the next generation (or the one after it) will find a way to revive it. Maybe those of us still doing this are trying to fill a void for that next generation, if only to instill some of the standards and ethics that we learned from “old media” in the new model. Maybe we believe we can save it. Or, maybe we are the only ones who haven't sobered up enough to find something better. I'd like to believe we can actually help, but … it's hard to believe, believe, believe.