Journalism faces huge challenges; small space, unsure future

On Feb. 26, members of The Torch editorial board attended the Associated Collegiate Press annual national convention at the Sheraton Universal Studios Hollywood. Hundreds of students from all over the country spent four days attending specialist sessions, critiques, workshops, keynote addresses and more. With as many as six or seven sessions to choose from in any given hour, the event offered learning in diverse subjects, a broad range of speakers and valuable insights into the profession.

Brady Teufel from California Polytechnic State University shows off the school’s  unmanned aerial vehicle in the “Don’t Call it a Drone: The ABCs of UAVs”  session on Saturday, Feb. 28.Photo: August Frank

Brady Teufel from California Polytechnic State University shows off the school’s
unmanned aerial vehicle in the “Don’t Call it a Drone: The ABCs of UAVs”
session on Saturday, Feb. 28.
Photo: August Frank

Penny Scott

The small, although hugely populated, world of smart phones is where journalism is headed. It might not survive the journey, however, or find its proper place there. Even though democracy depends on journalism, its survival is far from assured.

A lot is missing from the equation. For starters, we need role models. How many journalists today stand out as exemplars of the values and ethics of the profession? Who is there to inspire, lead and guide those new to journalism? These questions occupied my thinking during the keynote address of CNN’s “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter.

New York Times reporter David Carr, who was originally scheduled to speak at the convention, died suddenly on Feb. 12, and Stelter took his place. Carr was his mentor, and the impact of the loss on Stelter was obvious.

“David Carr was the most influential media reporter of our time,” he said. He remarked that, at a time when polls indicate that media professionals in general aren’t trusted, Carr stood out as someone who was widely trusted and respected.

Crafting his talk around Carr, Stelter shared anecdotes and stories about their relationship and communicated what he believed Carr might have said to us. I came away from his talk with a strong sense that losing Carr was a severe blow to a profession struggling to survive.

Stelter advised attendees to seek out and nurture mentoring relationships. It’s advice I wholeheartedly endorse for everyone, not just journalists. Sadly though, the message conveyed between his words was that Carr could not easily be matched or replaced. From what I know of Carr, I’m inclined to agree.

Democracy in danger

Democracy depends on journalism, keynote speaker Melanie Still reminded attendees. “We need people telling the truth,” she said. Still who is the vice president of content for KPCC radio in Los Angeles, said that the need for the service that journalism provides has not diminished. She added, however, that opportunities for journalists have.

Still encouraged attendees to choose journalism, saying the profession needs us. It certainly does need people choosing journalism. However, they need to be the right people because not everyone is cut out for this fast-paced, demanding profession. With the cards stacked against the whole profession, it’s a tough career choice for anyone.

As public trust in the profession is low and revenue streams are disappearing, print media is likely gasping its last few breaths. Journalistic reporting, unyielding in its demand for accuracy, is labor intensive and the financial rewards, for most, are likely to be meager and hard-earned. This is hardly inspiring or encouraging.
More skills required of journalists

More skills required of journalists

Speakers at the convention instructed students in practical skills and encouraged diligence in mastering them, in knowing the trends, embracing new technologies, doing hard work and being exemplars of the ethics of the profession.

Another message delivered by a number of speakers is that journalism professionals these days are expected to be all-around producers. Increasingly, they said, journalists are required to do all the footwork: research, interviewing, writing, photography, even videography and design.

Added to that, in the ever-changing maze of social media, where journalism is expected to make a home, manipulation is rife, according to Brandon Mendelson from Earth’s Temporary Solution; when something goes viral on social media, it’s not due to people’s natural curiosity. The whole thing is artificially manufactured according to Mendelson. Holding up a cell phone he said “this is where journalism is headed.” Small portable devices, several speakers echoed, are the means by which people get news and opinions or learn about anything that’s happening in the world.

Breakthrough needed

Will voices for truth prevail in hand-held devices and against such odds? Only time will tell.

I fear for journalism’s future. My concern is not new though; rather, it was brought into sharp focus as a result of attending the ACP convention. To succeed as a journalist in today’s climate requires passion, commitment and multiple skills. It also requires mentoring and probably a healthy dose of luck.

Journalism’s survival, at its highest level of integrity, is vitally important. Truth being our stock-in-trade, false hope has no place here; journalism needs strong committed players. Mostly, it needs a pivotal breakthrough.

On a personal note

I can attest to the hard work required of journalists; even though I’ve owned and operated several businesses, never before in my working life have I been under such sustained pressure. Having little journalistic experience before becoming editor-in-chief accounts for some of it. However, most of it comes from the demands inherent in the profession.

Now that I know my way around somewhat, I’m taking a bird’s eye view whenever I can and am thinking strategically about the profession as a whole. My commitment to Journalism’s code of ethics and high standards is unwavering. It’s what drew me to the profession in the first place. On that count, I’m well inside in my comfort zone.