We need a massive infusion of youth. Students in today’s best journalism schools, such as my own Cronkite School, are doing and thinking important stuff. We need to stop offering them jobs we designed 40 years ago. We need to get them into our organization and urge them to invent. We need to offer them freedom, challenge, entrepreneurial opportunities and veteran wisdom and then watch them go like hell.
Tim J. McGuire, the Frank Russell Chair for the business of journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in his piece, This I Believe (about journalism, newspapers and the future of media).
It’s an incredible thought piece.
McGuire starts by setting us up with his survey of the industry at present: Audiences that now “pull” the news rather than are passive receivers. Messages that are no longer controlled by the media thanks to the digital revolution. Legacy media that needs to dramatically reinvent itself. Poor quality (and at times boring) journalism in major regional papers.
Our media world was disrupted and blaming the leaders on duty at the time or wishing for yesterday is a fool’s game. It happened. Get over it.
Then he offers suggestions, and they are wise and important. Here are our favorite excerpts (his words, not ours), on a list, because it’s a lot to follow:
1. We must find new ways to measure every thing. The search for metrics to gauge audiences, effectiveness and most of all engagement with our audiences must be one of our most important quests.
2. We have to find new imaginative ways to serve advertisers who want to attract new customers.
3. A key to the mainstream media future is the successful integration of two groups of citizens we have held in disdain for too long. The first are people from outside the news industry. Second, we need a massive infusion of youth. (see above quote)
4. I believe newcomers to the media world are acing us out of investment dollars because they are fresh, exciting and see no boundaries. We have to look more like a startup and less like plodding behemoths.
5. I believe we have to start teaching creativity in universities and make it an essential part of every training curriculum. I am going to do two weeks on Creativity and Invention for my graduate 21st Century class this fall, but my dream is to introduce such a course to the regular journalism curriculum. I’d also make critical thinking a part of that dream course.
6. We should not get hot and bothered about Twitter and Facebook, those particular brands could be passing fads. Social media and the power of citizen conversation is not fleeting and we need to respect and appreciate that our society has been deeply changed by that power.
7. I believe quality news organizations should view the current taste for affirmation rather than information (aka Fox versus MSNBC) as a premier challenge. Rather than passively accepting the ugly fact that too many citizens are enamored of this kind of affirmation, responsible news organizations need to contrast and compare their performance.
FJP: Definitely read the full piece with a cup of coffee when you feel confused or inundated with information and require some hope.
Also read this response to McGuire by Steve Buttry of Digital First Media. We especially like his point that “journalism of the present and future is blend of sources and types.” He invites discussion in the comments section, and we’re interested in your thoughts too.
Our takeaway from it all? That continuous learning, creativity, innovation and guts are the bottom line, no matter how new or old to the industry you are. Buttry writes:
I believe age and generation are irrelevant in selecting leaders for news organizations. Experience has value in leaders, but outlook is more important. I will take my chances on a leader with limited experience and an unlimited outlook over an experienced leader who spends too much time looking back.
We won’t always make the right call, but I believe the best leaders are those with the courage and insight to make decisions, not those waiting for someone to tell them what to do.
Really appreciate both Buttry and McGuire’s faith in young people.—Jihii
If things that are not journalism entertain, inform and facilitate agency better than things that are, don’t bet on journalism to thrive.
I work for a newspaper and I think about how to reinvent newspapers and reassert their relevance all the time. And people are consuming more news than ever, so we must be doing something right. My guess, though? Most innovation in media and most of the revenue and most of the value will come not from the incumbents and not even from news startups, but from people who unwittingly stumble into producing media as the solution to another problem.
He argues that journalism’s disrupters are companies that don’t actually produce journalism, but fulfill the same underlying consumer needs that traditional journalism has sought to fulfill.
I will repeat this because it’s important: YouTube nor Facebook or any of these other companies aim to be an alternative to journalism and much of what they facilitate or do doesn’t look like journalism at all. A good chunk of it contains written or spoken words, but sometimes not even that. It’s not journalism. But you’d be naive if you thought their services aren’t often consumed instead of news. It’s the same kind of functionality in a different package, after all, and that new package happens to be rather attractive a lot of the time.
Thus, the shift in journalism is radical—“from narrative and stories and reporting to entirely different and entirely unrelated ways of sharing knowledge.”
News organizations and publications may be able to survive in the digital era, but that’s about it:
I’m confident that strong digital players like The Guardian and the New York Times and Digital First Media will survive. I’m less confident that they’ll ever thrive. I mean, we’re congratulating The Guardian for losing money online, NYTbecause its paywall isn’t the crash-and-burn we expected it to be, and because the Journal Register Company is in the black. If you don’t go out of business, you’re a hero.
Through this same lens, he comments on effective changes being made in the news industry, and what more can be done.
If people tell you, as they did assistant professor Amy Zerba’s research assistants, that they hate not being able to multitask when reading a newspaper, does that mean we should try to find ways to make it easier for readers to multitask, or is it simply a symptom of people not caring all that much about the news? And does that in turn mean they just don’t care about stuff in general anymore and have become jaded and uninterested in politics and world news (for which there is some evidence), or is there more to it and are people perhaps getting their information needs met in other, more convenient or more exciting ways? Are we trying to get better at something that doesn’t matter anymore? Perhaps we should take the best traditions of journalism and do something entirely new with it.
Related to our last post, I’m sharing this message from Poynter:
Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman and CEO, in a speech at the University of North Carolina recently, told journalism students they should change their major. “If you’re going into journalism if you care, then you’re going into the wrong profession … I usually ask (journalists) if they want to change the world in the way it wants to be changed,” Ailes said.
Tom Huang, Poynter adjunct faculty member, has a slightly different take: “Actually, you should go into journalism if you want to save the world. My point is that you don’t get to choose the time that you’re called upon to be brave and do your best work. Don’t forget: A time of crisis and change is a time of incredible opportunity,” he wrote for Poynter.org.
What’s your take on this? Whether you are a student, educator or professional, we would like to know what you think about the value of a journalism degree. Poynter’s Howard Finberg, who has been thinking about the future of journalism and journalism education for years, will be giving a talk at the European Journalism Centre on the future of journalism education, and he hopes you’ll fill out a very short [four to five questions only] survey. He’ll share what he learns at AEJMC this summer as well.
FJP: NewsU will give you a 35 percent discount code to any of their Webinars or Webinar Replays for doing so. Feel free to share your thoughts with us too! (@the_fjp)