A year ago, at a lecture by Ray McGovern, a former CIA officer who became a political activist in the face of intelligence practices that seemingly destroy our freedom of privacy, I sat in a chair beside an older man who commented on the unfortunate riddance of paper in the wake of the digital era and how unprofitable it has become after learning I was studying to become a journalist. In the chaos of change, I told him, there is opportunity.
We — speaking on behalf of the press — are in a tough spot. Brian Williams is out for six months (but more than likely he’s out indefinitely), Jon Stewart is retiring, New York Times columnist David Carr has died at 58 and iconic TV journalist Bob Simon was killed in a car accident last week. To translate that into English: A liar lost his job, the number one fake newscaster who became far more truthful than all the “real” newscasters is going his own way and two people who did the news the right way are gone.
You turn on the television and each channel you turn to in order to watch the news has the same stories glazed over with the channel’s own bias. You flip through the paper and a majority of the stories come from the Associated Press. The issues that writers are most passionate about can’t even be explored on the forum of an opinion page.
The truth is people only respond to the work you put out if it’s controversial or part of an issue that has been a part of pack journalism at large; the job of an opinion columnist is to stir up conversation.
Every journalism professor I’ve had over the past year has given me a rather castrated claim that if I or other students in our program go out looking for employment in the field of our major then we are quite frankly “screwed.” Newspapers are scrambling to get paywalls up on their websites. Usually the move happens in the wake of being bought by Warren Buffet, like the Richmond Times-Dispatch who also changed its link to a simpler Richmond.com in order to see more traffic flow on their website.
As journalists, is it necessary to forfeit truth for creativity? Should we create lists about the attractiveness of politicians and insert subtle detail in there in order to get much needed information to the public, in order for the public to care about it? Do we add asinine headlines to our pieces in order to replicate the success of Buzzfeed?
The aversion to direction of course comes when you don’t think clearly enough about the profession. Truth and creativity can go hand in hand. Journalists don’t have to forfeit a direct headline for what will bait the most clicks over social media. We don’t have to live up to the stereotype that I hear far too often about the typical journalist raking up muck in order to make a buck (unless the muck that we rake is something the public deserves to know about in order to form their own opinion).
In time, advertisers for papers will understand the way to make a paper far more profitable from the digital platform than it has been in the printed form. We’ll find realistic newscasters like Jon Stewart to replace people like Brian Williams who don’t add themselves into a story in order to look more heroic than the subjects they cover.
We’ll find people as blunt as David Carr to write columns about the hypocritical nature of media. We’ll find more people like Bob Simon who are willing to go in the middle of harm’s way and be imprisoned in foreign countries in order to report the facts to America’s public.
It isn’t correct to tell youth that their future employment will die in a matter of years. The more likely scenario is this: the youth are opportunists and have the capability to bring journalism completely into the digital era in a way that conveys information to the public far more effectively. We are the future of journalism.