An Open Letter to J-School Students: Help Usher Us Into the “News 2.0” Era of Collaborative Journalism

Dear Journalism School student,

I read that you are questioning whether journalism is a worthy calling. You are considering public relations as an alternative, because you believe PR is the clearer path to the truth than the rocky road laid by some in the journalism profession.

There’s nothing wrong with PR – I made the transition from full-time journalism and have no regrets. But if I had to make the same decision today, I’m not sure I would leave the news business.

There has never been a more exciting time to be a journalist. The Internet has not only made your job easier, it has made your job more powerful. The new “consumer generated media” just scratches the surface of the sweeping changes and dynamic opportunities waiting for you, the first generation of journalists who will look at covering the news as a shared experience.   

There has been a lot of bad news about news lately, enough doom and gloom to make PR or any other profession appear better than journalism. To be fair, there has been little shortage of bad PR industry news either. There are bad people, lame people, and ignorant people in every profession – neither journalism nor PR has a corner on that market.

But there are more quality journalists than poor, and I believe more better days ahead than behind. You’ve heard of Web 2.0? Well this is News 2.0, and you can be a major part of this collaborative experiment where news never ends; can be created by anyone in multiple ways; and can bring the world closer more quickly than at any other time in modern history. 

Don’t just take my word for it – ask Dan Gillmor, Tim Porter, Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rosen. Get to know them well, because they are the avatars of News 2.0.

And don’t go to boring SPJ events (I was president of the University of Missouri chapter, I was responsible for a few). Instead go to conferences like We Media, where the future of news, storytelling and sharing are on the menu, not stale leftovers like how to write the perfect inverted pyramid.

I’m sure you would make a fine PR person – but we don’t need more PR people, we need more reporters who think beyond the beat. We need more editors who take risks and embrace the unknown. We need more thinkers and leaders to make sure there is a News 3.0 someday.

Quoting Phil Meyer, Tim Porter said “the ominous news of the last week signals opportunity for those journalists who want to build their own, intentional future.”

Everyone is the media, but not everyone can be a journalist. This is your time, your decision, and your intentional future. Please, make it a good one.

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5 Responses to An Open Letter to J-School Students: Help Usher Us Into the “News 2.0” Era of Collaborative Journalism

  1. I agree — it is an exciting and somewhat scary time. I really wish I could make it to that conference — it looks really interesting.
    One of the worst things going on right now is cost-cutting. I don’t know if you remember KRCG, but they’ve moved to a new, automated system for their newscasts . . . anyways, it is terrible, the cameras aren’t in the right place, and video never takes on time.
    The power of the internet to expand journalism could be very good — I’m just afraid it will be another excuse to cut corners.

  2. Journalism Students — We Need You

    There’s never been a better time to enter the journalism field.
    So says Gary Goldhammer, who writes the excellent blog Below The Fold.
    Gary makes an impassionated plea to j-school students to “stay the course” and help usher in a new era of journ…

  3. Rob says:

    Very insightful and positive post…but how can journalists survive when too many corporations have surrendered the journalism ideal for the promise of profits? Newspapers demand circulation numbers (in some cases, inflating them) and TV stations demand ratings (and are too willing to do anything to get them). Too many companies take advantage of the high ideals of young journalists, working them too long for too little pay, almost forcing them out.
    It’s the pessimistic view I present, but I’d like to hear your counterargument.

  4. Rob, your view is (unfortunately) more realistic than pessimistic. Nevertheless, I believe people are more powerful than corporations, and the “News 2.0” world makes journalists more powerful than ever. Journalists don’t need the “institutions” anymore — today’s and tomorrow’s journalists have more influence than they think.
    There is an excellent post by Tim Porter that you should read — http://www.timporter.com/firstdraft/archives/000463.html. Tim basically says that because of several social and economic factors, including the news business’ loss of exclusivity over the publishing process, “What remains are the journalists. Increasingly, individual journalists, whether they work on their own or for news companies, are showing an ability to connect directly with their audiences, using the Internet to extend their reach far beyond their geographic base.”
    Tim says that “the future of news belongs to those who can connect to readers. That’s something people do better than institutions.” Perhaps this is too optimistic, but I like to think he’s right.

  5. Rob says:

    Tim Porter is right – and his argument is a version of what I’ve worried about in TV news for the past couple of years.
    TV news started as a community service – a requirement for a station’s use of public airwaves at a pittance. Then – it turned a profit.
    In a way, that was the best and worst thing that could’ve happened. More money poured into news departments, at the network and local levels, as station managers realized that news was a way to give their station a community-accessible “face.” It gave the viewers an emotional, local tie to what was previously just an outlet for network material.
    Fast-forward to the 90’s. TV news becomes so profitable, stations expand newscasts, but fail to devote the proper resources to fill the extra time. Local reporting gives way to network news services, bringing in more national news on a local level.
    Now look where we are. News has indeed been commoditized. AP and Reuters feeds are on almost all news websites. Anyone can get the raw information they need. What’s TV news good for anymore? Ask a news director, and they’ll say “local weather.” Okay, but what about the other 20 minutes of a local half-hour show?
    We’ve lost our focus. We’ve gone astray. The future is niche reporting. We must believe that viewers – “news consumers” – have the ability to go out and find the news that’s relevant to them. We must forget the term “broadcasting.” Most people don’t care about the news stories TV reports on – a fatal shooting 20 miles away; a robbery in another county that “turned deadly.”
    Well, sorry for the length. I guess I need to get that off my chest.
    So you’ve talked about the newspaper sites – what do we do with TV news? Everyone’s already got websites – maybe we need to turn our reporters into “videobloggers.”

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