Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Future of Journalism: Bill Minutaglio
Clinical Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Award-Winning Journalist and Author
I asked Mr. Minutaglio:
What do you tell young, aspiring journalists about the future of the business? Can you still be encouraging? What advice do you give them? And how can they best get a job in these tough economic times?
Mike, I'm in this unique vantage point situation for your questions, in that I am a full-time member of the journalism faculty at one of America's largest universities -- one that draws people from around the nation, the world. And I work with aspiring, young journalists every day. So I hear their concerns, ambitions. I have students that range in age from 18-30 -- graduate students, undergrads.
One thing is clear: There is no shortage of young people who want to report and write great stories. They know the technology has changed, is changing. They know it better than anyone else, because they are changing it themselves -- they are inventing the paradigms.
They also are fully aware that there are fewer and fewer guarantees of full-time jobs, 401ks, even year-long contracts with magazines. They know all of that: And yet they continue to commit to studying journalism. And they continue to have a huge thirst for knowledge, for growth, for studying the still basic, eternal, elements of journalism: They want to know how to interview people, talk with people, investigate stories, drill down on stories, change hearts and minds. The young people getting into journalism today are, in many ways, far more courageous than anyone who got into journalism in the 1970s and the 1980s.
People who are in their 50s today went into journalism back in the '70s and '80s, knowing full well that there were plenty of jobs, publications, opportunities. They entered the work force secure in the knowledge that there would always be another newspaper, another magazine, they could work for. Think about it now: Students are still lining up to study journalism, to commit to journalism, knowing full well that things are vastly different today.
If that doesn't give you hope in some way, then you are a dead soul indeed. Young people are moving into journalism with a wonderful idealism and level of commitment. Are they naive? No -- they are hopeful. Their primary concern remains protecting journalism's eternal ideals -- shining the light on the truth.
Are they worried about jobs? Yes, of course they are. But they seem to recognize that they can and will be far more nimble than the generations that came before them: They have to be and they know it.
What I hear repeatedly from journalism students -- mine range in age from 18-30, including graduate students -- is that they are going to master all the multimedia skills they can and then be prepared for any opportunity that fits their interest and circumstance.
As for advice, I tell young students that they can be served by acquiring more knowledge -- but not general platitudes. They need specific tools. To stand a better chance of getting employed, it's beyond obvious that you have to be able to master - or do well -- a variety of multimedia tasks. And not just social networking.
These days, almost every newspaper and magazine is asking that its staffers bring multimedia skills to the table - yes, the social networking, but also the visuals, the audio, the packaging, the web design, Flash, etc. That holistic, multimedia knowledge is now being offered by almost every good university journalism program. If you can afford it, if you have time, one very practical step is to find a year-to-two year graduate level journalism program and immerse yourself in all that it offers.
The technology is changing so fast that it is not a bad idea to take time out and spend a year or two, if you can, in a quality graduate program that will not only yield you a master's degree -- but will expose you to the latest, cutting edge knowledge surrounding multimedia. You will emerge with skills that are cross-platform, that put you in a position to really be a jack-of-all-trades, that will help you take control of your own career -- you can offer yourself to a journalism entity as someone who comfortably wears many different hats.
It turns out, by the way, that major universities also happen to be enormously fruitful networks for jobs - employers, editors, routinely contact universities hoping that there are some bright students who can help those "old school" editors make the transition to the newer technologies, and who can speak to the next generation of readers.
My sense is that so many editors are so afraid of the future that they look toward some large institutions of higher learning and assume that the researchers there, the educators there, are studying the trends - and that the students from those programs might be well-versed in the latest trends. We have, as an example, several young journalists who pulled out of their budding magazine or newspaper careers to go back to graduate school -- so they can steep themselves in "the new thing." Or be around full-time journalism researchers who are trying to perfect or predict "the new thing." Universities, good ones, also routinely hold conferences that bring together great journalism minds -- people who share that cutting-edge knowledge and who also provide wonderful networking opportunities for students, for young journalists. Again, not everyone has time or money to "go back" to school -- but, in a sense, everyone is "going back to school" these days, whether you are formally enrolled somewhere or not.
We are all learning something new each day -- the social networking, the multimedia, etc. My argument is that some young people should consider, if they have the time and money, enrolling somewhere where they can be exposed to a full buffet of new paradigms, new ways of doing journalism, new ways of making yourself an attractive candidate for editors, publishers, producers, etc.