The future of journalism lies in its links to the past. And we must use that past to move forward.
As a former journalist, and a current professor, I am teaching and interacting every day with the future audience members and the future journalists who will make or break our industry. Just as we need ethical journalists to produce the stories important to our lives, we also need people who want to watch/read/listen/consume those stories, and for whom those stories will have meaning. For both the journalist and the news consumer, remembering the roots of journalism will help us all to have a meaningful future.
We know how to do those stories. We know what we need to do to gain the trust of the audience, and it comes down to the basics of journalism. We have to tell the facts clearly. We have to avoid inserting opinion into news stories, and stick to being reliable sources of fact for the viewers and readers.
We must tell our audience why they should trust us. Why they should support us. Why our society hinges on what we do every day—which is to find out the information that citizens need to make the decisions most important to them. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
But we must also be aware that what is considered “news” and what our news consumers want – and how they want it – is changing. Murrow had radio and then television, but he didn’t have TMZ and Buzzfeed competing for attention. Cronkite had war and social change, but did he have tweets that circle the globe in seconds? Technology changes how we get our news, but does it change what the news is? Or should be? That’s a balancing act that today’s journalists must figure out how to master.
That’s easier to say than do, of course. In my current role as a professor, though, I have the opportunity—and the duty—to prepare young journalists for the challenge of news in the 21st century. What does it look like? Who is the audience? How can they reach the audience with true stories that engage them in their world?
This year, BEA (Broadcast Education Association) challenges students to “Disrupt the News.” It’s a contest to rethink, to reinvent the way journalists reach the audience. Especially that coveted younger audience-those future news consumers! The purpose of the contest is not to turn news into entertainment, but to break the walls we ourselves have put up that define what news is and how the stories are told. In the classroom, talking daily with the future audience and journalists, many of them just don’t see how TV news is relevant to their lives.
It’s not the “fault” of social media, or any media. The fact is that there are more ways than ever to connect—and more ways than ever to be distracted. Does that mean we should add more graphics, more stingers, more stuff to the newscasts? No. That means we need to go back to our roots—telling true stories in a compelling manner that engages the audience. And when we engage them, we attract them. It’s about ratings and getting eyeballs, true. But I truly believe that the story helps the audience to realize why the information is important, and why they should watch.
So what can you do to positively impact the future of journalism education, and of journalism itself? Talk to that young audience! Visit a classroom in a local university, college, community college, high school—any school. Yes, it’s time out of a busy day. But this is your chance to talk directly to those people who (sorry) don’t know who you are or why your work is important. Encourage them, engage them. As a teacher, I certainly welcome professionals coming into my classroom to share their knowledge and experience.
But it’s more than the war stories. It’s that passion that journalists have about the profession. It’s the stories you can tell, in more than 1:20. The background and the context you can offer to a room full of eager young minds who want to know what’s going on, but just don’t know exactly how to find out. In turn, you can learn what information they want and how they want to receive it.
Nobody has a fedora with a press card stuck in it anymore. But you have to admit, journalism is a way cool job. Different situations every day, meeting new people every day, telling stories every day. And who knows—in a few years the kid you talk to in a classroom may be sending in a resume to be your next hire.