This one’s for the haters of the last post (and, as you might imagine, contains some colorful language from users of social media).
One of the challenges of working in an experimental company in a changing industry is that you yourself have to constantly learn and evolve. For the past few months, I’ve been in a new role at Digital First that forces me outside my professional comfort zone every day – I’m managing talented people and projects that are sometimes beyond my (initial) comprehension.
Some days, this is the best part of the job, other days it is the worst – as it is both exciting and exhausting. A lot of other journalists and new managers out there know what I mean.
There are days when all I want to do is draft some tweets, push some stories through production, build a few slideshows and plan a news budget – tasks I feel very confident completing after years of doing them day in and day out. Instead, I wake up and see my to-do list includes less easy-to-check-off items like “5. Work on this giant strategy”, “11. Get these 10 editors to acknowledge this deadline” and “8. Draft 2013 budget”.
When you work at home, as I do, it’s tempting to crawl back into bed and wish those difficult tasks away to another day. It’s easy to get a little lost when you peer too long into the abyss. I think I’m finally getting a feel for why many editors of mine over the years always seemed so….crazy.
For me, blogging about journalism the past few months would be akin to a castaway on a lifeboat blogging about recreational yachting. I’m just trying to figure out how I’m staying afloat out here – so what good am I to you, dear reader?
This blog has been a lot of things over the past few years – a place for me to sound off about the issues I care about, a place to give instruction, a place to share interesting bits of news. Above all – it’s a way for me to keep writing, which is what I’d like to revisit in the coming months.
I have about a dozen half-finished blog posts in my dashboard. I’m getting back to those. I’ll never be as prolific as Buttry and I don’t have the authority of Rosen, Jarvis or Shirky. I likely won’t break news, but I have a voracious appetite for info, a decent sense of humor and some really cute cat photos.
In brief (tl;dr): I’m learning more than teaching these days. I hope you’ll still come along for the ride.
As part of our effort to be open about the ongoing development of TBD.com, the Community Engagement staff has been writing a series of posts as to why and how we ended up here. It’s always the first question I get asked when I meet someone here in DC (can you tell by the accent?), so it’s a good assignment for getting to know us.
In putting it together, I was thinking back to when I first announced (in mid-April) that I was leaving the Enquirer to come to TBD. A young journalist I know asked me, “Why in the world are you doing this? You have a good job. You’ve made it.”
I guess, in some ways, she was right. I had a voice at the table at a decent sized newspaper (and had made it through several layoffs). That used to be a major milestone in my planned career goal – but a few months ago, I had an epiphany: My goals are outdated – and they really weren’t mine to begin with.
From Day 1 of journalism school, we were taught that to work at a Known Media Source is the biggest of big deals. Our ultimate goal would be to work at the New York Times’, Washington Posts and CNNs of the world – because that’s what many generations of eager journalists before us wanted. We were led to believe if we, like them, were to do good work at several smaller newspapers, we’d someday get brought up to the Majors of journalism to do the important kind of news that matters.
It’s kind of laughable in hindsight.
The big newspaper as the end-all-be-all is a throwback to a state of journalism that doesn’t really exist anymore. The culture of today’s big newsrooms are more “Stepford Wives” than “His Girl Friday”, employing journalists from a certain kind of background from a certain group of universities to tell a certain kind of story in the same way they’ve always told stories. Some are willing to stretch out of that box, but most haven’t. As an individual, you have to be quiet and fit in or you leave.
You don’t have to be in the Majors of newspapering to do important news that matters to people anymore. You don’t even have to be at a mainstream media source or have gone to journalism school. You don’t even have to call yourself a journalist at all. Getting recognition from big newspapers or major awards, while still nice, isn’t really the bar we have to measure ourselves by anymore. Exposure, originality and branding is the key – and you can do that on your own blog.
And that’s where TBD came in for me. I wanted the chance to do something new – and it was becoming obvious that I’d have to leave that Stepford Journalist career path to do it. Who knows? It might have been too large a risk – time will tell – but I bet I learn more from my time at TBD than I would have at a newspaper.
Am I saying I might not go back sometime or that I wouldn’t still want to work at one of those bastions of journalism someday? Of course not. I’m just saying I don’t think the old measures of success apply anymore. My success, for now, is TBD (har har).
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?
Lest anyone think I’m casting stones without acknowledging my own sins, I decided to share a list of the shameless ploys I’ve used to get page views for my employers and blogs. What I’ve listed is hardly out of the ordinary for any website, but I still feel bad about it sometimes.
If I could go back to when I was in journalism school and share the following information with 2001 Mandy, she’d probably change majors. I won’t say when these stunts were done or who I worked for at the time – but it’s happened. I’ll repent for my sins someday.
Feel free to add your own or others you’ve seen in the comments.
Mandy’s Most Shameless Page View Ploys
- Built a photo gallery when a story would have better served the subject matter
- Changed the headline and summary to reflect something far more exciting/scandalous than the story’s subject.
- Published an online story that only has a paragraph of text and a link to a competitor’s story.
- Given premiere position to outrageous crime stories even though news judgment did not warrant it.
- Published link bait from the AP and other services even though it was out of our coverage area.
- Submitted news content to Digg and Fark before waiting for others to submit it.
- Picked the sexiest girl out of a photo gallery to feature for a gallery in a prominent news spot.
- Prominently featured crime stories/pet stories/disaster stories on the site long past their expiration date to keep getting page views.
- Linked together completely unrelated stories to draw views to unpopular content.
- Published content that is indistinguishable from advertising/press releases simply because it will get traffic.