Journalism: People of the press, embrace industry changes

by Beacon Staff • February 25, 2009

iFirst in an occasional /iBeaconi series where students assess the state of their majors./i

Journalism majors. People lower their tone when passing us by-the ones with notebooks, DV cams and tape recorders.

When they ask our major or talk to us about our hopes and dreams, they become standoffish, worried-sympathetic even. Professors and professionals in the industry depress us daily with news of the trade's continuing demise.

It's been like this since the beginning of our professional and academic pursuit. Sometimes, I find it necessary to curl up into a ball, hide under the covers and pretend I'm five-when the "real world" wasn't so close and the journalism industry had a solid future. But there's no escaping the harsh truth before us.

On a recent trip home to Alaska, I found myself sitting at the kitchen table-blueberry French toast, orange juice and glacier water atop the place setting in front of me. In an attempt to re-familiarize myself with the locale, I reached for the newspaper, the iAnchorage Daily News./i

In the bottom corner of the front page was a boxed-in message from the paper's editor-an apology for the downsizing of the print edition.

For a moment, I didn't realize the magnitude of change in that black and grey sachet of paper.

The iDaily News/i no longer fit the sensible definition of a newspaper. There was no lifestyle section, no business, outdoors or science section. And there were no sections for national, international or local news.

In January, the paper shrunk to two full sections. Now, the first portion covers all news-everything from living arts to weather. Local coverage is written by staff reporters and staff compilations. The rest is wired from the McClatchy News Corporation. The second ring of paper is titled "Sports and Classified."

It's sad. They're expanding their Web site and compressing their paper. Internet ad sales make only a fraction of what print ads used to. This means there will be more content and less journalists on staff.

And it's not just small, local papers. iThe Boston Globe/i recently slimmed down to four sections and has gone through three recent rounds of employee buyouts. iThe New York Times/i let go of 15 journalists last May, after the company recognized its unmet goal to induce 100 people to assume voluntary buyout packages.

Television stations are regrouping too. In early February, Boston's WHDH-TV (Channel 7) let go of Randy Price, the station's lead anchor, along with an executive news producer and weekend anchor.

But it's not as if this reshuffling means a loss of readership or viewership. It simply means a change of venue.

Since the beginning of news, people have adapted to new mediums, from stone tablets to the Pony Express to flier criers in the street. The Internet is next in line.

The Nieman Journalism Lab reported that in 2008, nytimes.com had an average of 19,503,667 visitors each month, a 33 percent increase from 2007.

It's convergence journalism, the meshing of media-print, broadcast, multimedia-into a fluid, all-access form. It's an information smorgasbord.

So, it's not a bad sign for us up-and-coming writers, anchors, shooters, photographers and editors. But it is a sign of the times. As news consumers adapt to evolving news content, we journalists must go with the flow. We need to learn every aspect of print, broadcast, and multimedia-paying specific attention to the embedding of material on the Web in the same efficient, accurate and ethical manner as we do in newspapers and broadcasts. Though our media are evolving, we need to remain true to our creed.

We also need to become innovative. In newspaper vernacular, we can trace the continued shrinking of the "news hole" in the traditional newspaper, magazine, radio or television broadcast-less content, more advertisements. But a publication's duty is not to its advertisers; its primary duty is to its readers.

News outlets, however, have to profit from their content on the Web. The solution is an iTunes-like method of micro-payment, as proposed by Walter Isaacson in the Feb. 5 issue of iTime/i.

It's our job to shape the future of the industry, and to keep it alive and growing. Journalism, in some form, will always be around. Adjustment, practice in the field and inclusive knowledge will allow us to stand steady.

iMeena Ganesan is a freshman broadcast journalism major and a contributor to /iThe Beacon.