At universities across the country young people will head to classrooms in the coming days to renew their quests for a bright and meaningful future.
Quite surprisingly, perhaps, a large number of them will take steps toward careers in the news industry — dreaming of jobs with newspapers, radio and television stations, or Internet companies.
These future reporters, photographers, videographers, bloggers, talk-show hosts and editors face an uncertain destiny. Their professors are preparing them to navigate a shifting landscape with as many pitfalls and hazards as opportunities for success.
Someone recently told me, “I don’t know why anyone would go into journalism these days.” The statement was a reference to the economic factors that have hurt the news industry.
For sure, it has become a challenging way to make a living. But the truth is, people have never gone into journalism for the reasons they pursue some other careers.
Although financial troubles can be frustrating and even scary at times, money isn’t why anyone gets up in the morning — or afternoon or the middle of the night — and goes to work in a newsroom. Journalism is a calling, a passion. More an avocation than a vocation.
Those of us in the news business didn’t get here because we planned to get rich — believe me.
We got here because we wanted to change the world.
And that’s why there are thousands of young adults studying journalism at colleges all over the country — outnumbering available jobs by a wide margin.
Make no mistake, the newspaper business has always been about being profitable. Newspapers, like other companies, need customers — readers and advertisers — to survive.
Without the space occupied by advertising and without the loyalty of our readers, we have no vehicle for stories
and no one to read them — whether in our printed product or online. That’s an inescapable reality. So is the need to understand and adjust to changes in the process and the product.
Colleges have adapted their curricula to meet the shifting demands of this industry. Where students once learned newsgathering and writing, they now also develop skills in multimedia — Web design and video, interactive technology, using social media to tell their stories.
People access information in a variety of ways — on their cell phones, for example — and future journalists must be ready.
Journalism is both an art and a craft. You can experience the freedom of creativity, but within certain parameters. Every lesson about Twitter updates and blog posts is accompanied by drills in grammar, word selection, active and passive voice, concise sentences, accuracy and objectivity.
But even as technology and economic factors reshape the industry, and even as lessons on language and ethics are absorbed and applied, journalists still do what they do because they see an opportunity to make a difference.
Professors can teach skills, but they can’t teach passion. And that is what makes one a true journalist.
When people ask me what I like about my job, I tell them this:
-- It’s interesting. Every day is different from the previous one.
-- And it matters. I get to change the world — one word, one story, one page at a time.
That’s what drew me to journalism more years ago than I care to admit. It's what keeps me coming back each day.
And that’s what keeps compelling bright and motivated young people to step forward and work for their high school newspapers, to study news-writing and editing at college, and to send their resumes to people such as me — in the hopes that their break will come.
And it will.
Because passion is a powerful weapon against a world of uncertainty.