Saturday, October 24, 2009

Future of Journalism: The Complete Responses

Here are the complete responses from industry leaders to my “Future of Journalism” questions:

What do you tell young and 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 decent-paying job in these tough economic times?

Lesley Jane Seymour
Editor-in-Chief of More
Former Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire, Redbook, YM

As a life-long journalist who also teaches journalism at the grad school at NYU, I have to tell you that journalism will never die. It is an integral part of our democracy in the US and an important part of helping the world develop properly. Without the eye of the public exposing crimes, wrongs, cheating, evil, etc. we can be too easily duped and swayed and our governments hijacked. Just look at Iran: the first thing you do to solidify an illegitimate regime is sweep the journalists off the street. What is going away is print. Don't confuse the two. And we may need to separate sensationalism from journalism: they are not the same thing just as the New York Post is not the Washington Post.

Michael Caruso
Owner/Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Tube
Former Editor-in-Chief of Men's Journal, Details, and Los Angeles Magazine

In good times, you have to have a passion for a profession. In bad times, that is true x 10. If you are very motivated and dedicated to journalism and storytelling, those will always be things you can pursue. There are all new, exciting ways to do that--from video games to social media to e-books to augmented reality and beyond. But it is more harrowing than ever to make a living at it.

Lucy Danziger
Editor-in-Chief of Self
Founding Editor of Women’s Sports & Fitness

Encouraging? Yes! People will always read, always want the latest info and inspirational imagery, and whether it's on paper or something resembling it, we will always need content. Encourage young people to create the next generation of magazines, and then hire all of us.

Jimmy Jellinek
Editorial Director of Playboy Magazine/
Former Editor-in-Chief of Maxim, Stuff, and Complex

Story telling is the most ancient form of communication. No matter what platform - a painting on a wall to a post on a blog - people will seek out the news and have a need to tell it. Whether or not you will get paid a living wage to do that is a different story. That said amongst the clatter of a million voices it is the job of an editor to know good from bad and provide context to all the noise. Beyond that you just have to be that much better than everybody else at what you do.

Bill Minutaglio
Clinical Professor, University of Texas at Austin
Award-Winning Journalist and Author

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.

Jackie Leo
Director of Digital Operations at Peter G. Peterson Foundation
Senior Advisor, Business Development at iAmplify
Former Editor-in-Chief of Reader's Digest, Senior Producer/Editorial Director at ABC News

Great reporting and editing is not going to go away. And why should we care about the delivery system, which is changing yearly? My advice to young people is not to wait for someone or some thing to "authorize" you. Got an idea for a great story? Start reporting it. Start blogging. Start taking photos, if that's your talent and passion. And find a mentor - some professional who will read your stuff and give you an honest appraisal.

Neal Boulton
Founder & Editor-in-Chief of
Chairman and CEO at Neal Boulton, Inc.
Former Editor-in-Chief of Genre Magazine, Corporate Development Editor, Men's Fitness, Shape, Natural Health and more at Weider Publications, Editor-in-Chief of Men's Fitness

Reading is how we get that reminder that we are not alone, that we are a part of a human race with disparate feelings and incongruent behavior. And as long as we humans are kicking around, the journalist who can capture their STORIES will have a craft to hone. Neither fame, wealth, nor terms like "cutting edge" really apply to us journalists, but if a good story is what you live to uncover, to write and share with those hungry eyes and souls needing to remember they are not alone, then keep listening and keep writing—you're a journalist at your core, and you will succeed.

Amy Haimerl
Morning producer for
Former Executive Editor of Gotham Magazine/Hamptons Magazine; Managing Editor for Silicon Alley Reporter; News Editor for Westword

People will always love stories. Find them and write them well and there will always be an outlet. We're culling the herd, so to speak, but those willing to work and be creative will always be prized.

And don't be meek. Be thoughtful but assertive. And be willing to go to a small market and earn your chops. You'll get more out of it than you will fetching coffee in New York. You need to set yourself apart.

Find a small daily or weekly somewhere. If you click with the editor, go and get experience. Do good work. Have interesting experiences so that you have something interesting to write about

Don't worry about your voice. Learn the craft of reporting and beat development. It will serve you well later when you're writing the big pieces.

To me, it really all depends on how you answer the question: Do you want to be a journalist or do you want to be in the New York "media"?

There is a vector of overlap, but it is small.

Mike Dolan
Former Executive Editor of Maxim and FHM

Don't be nostalgic. The world needs smart, intellectually curious people who can tell stories. The technology may change. The delivery system might be different. But that skill will always be in demand. My other advice would be not to label yourself. Don't be just a "newspaper journalist" or a "magazine writer." I think so many people have adapted these labels as their identity that they feel left behind by all the changes in the industry. Do what you think is fun and interesting. And the words of Woodward and Bernstein still ring true: "Follow the money."

Stanley Mieses
Writer, Editor, Broadcaster at National Public Radio
Former Staff Writer for The New Yorker, Features Editor for New York Newsday, Staff Writer for the New York Daily News

I would say do NOT start your own blog. . .you cannot learn anything by being self-indulgent. Someone else said it the other day....don't major in journalism, rather, gain an expertise or an informed familiarity in a particular field; the problem with 99 per cent of the bloggers out there is that they DO NOT KNOW more than you or I--anyone can invent attitude. Find someone to learn from. Read. When you think you have three words to say, swallow two.

You get into journalism to become the interlocutor between what ''they'' want the public to know, and what the public ought to or needs to know...whether it's government, institution, corporation or your local boutique or restaurant. The rest is marketing: "To keep the light shining on yourself." If it's old-fashioned to let the work do the talking for you, then I am happily old-fash…but in the end THE WORK is your personal brand.

David Mathison
Publisher of BE THE MEDIA
CEO of natural E creative group, LLC

In most media fields the container maybe dead, but the industry is thriving. The CD is dead but music is thriving (see MySpace, iTunes); Books are dead but publishing is thriving (see web sites, blogs, wikis, eBooks, POD); VHS/DVDs are dead but video is thriving (YouTube, Blip, iTunes, iPods); Newspapers are dead but journalism is thriving (citizen journalism, blogs, web sites, etc). There's also the explosion of creative writing via social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Reddit, blogs, etc. We are in the middle of a renaissance period unlike any other.

Matt Pepin
Sports Editor for
Adjunct Lecturer at Marist College
Former Sports Editor at the Times Herald-Record, New Haven Register, and Journal Register

The skills of a journalist apply to so many media. Write the story, and it can be spun for TV, the big screen, print, web, countless possibilities. But it all starts with the well-written story.

The media that tell stories the best and the media that devote the resources needed to tell the stories the best will survive. Newspapers can be among them with the right approach.

Newspapers must look for stories they will have exclusively. For many, that means concentrating on local, local, local. For others, that means breaking national news. Just make sure the story you are telling has value to your readers.

It's clear two things drive readership regardless of the format - fascinating, compelling features and breaking news. Journalists must relentlessly pursue those to make it in the world. Aspiring journalists should start wherever they can get a foot in the door and then dominate their coverage area. Editors will notice, and then it's survival of the fittest.

Also, be willing to make difficult decisions. Don't cover a story if it doesn't even pass your own "Who Cares" test. Don't fall into the rut of feeling like you must write certain stories out of tradition, like town meetings, if there's just nothing there.

Randee Dawn
Freelance Writer
Former Senior Editor, Features for The Hollywood Reporter, News Editor for Soap Opera Digest

I tell young, aspiring journalists to not major in journalism. To minor in it at best, and get expertise elsewhere you can use to write about, and apply wherever the need is. If you've already graduated, for God's sake, don't go to graduate school for journalism!

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