By Alexander C. Kaufman
When my friend Sarah graduated from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut with a degree in journalism last year, the prospect of work was grim. We had met the summer before, working at a newspaper in Long Island, where we both reported, wrote and edited articles on local happenings, although her real passion was for music journalism. Over coffee she shared her dreams and ambitions to land a job at one of the alternative music magazines she read, having fallen under the spell of the byline.
Then the economy sank into recession. Print publications that had already grown shaky on their legs since the rise of the Internet dropped their journalists like flies, before dissolving themselves. Last we spoke, Sarah had conceded to interview for a job at a public relations firm in Manhattan.
Long have marketers and PR people intermingled with journalists, both of whom create and utilize media to reach as broad an audience as possible. But many reporters, like Sarah, tend to have more a passion for telling, not selling, a story.
But as the industry evolves in the wake of the Web, Boston Globe publisher Steve Ainsley and editor-in-chief Marty Baron, both diehard newspapermen, are seeing a convergence of their respective sides of the business.
“The future journalist must embrace change, be entrepreneurial, operate alone [and] anticipate uncertainty,” Baron said, adding that, along with traditional skills in interviewing, investigation and research, a journalist should have the business-smarts to recognize what viewers and readers will buy.
“New, young journalists may leapfrog ahead of older journalists” because of their fluency with new technology, he encouraged.
But while Baron expressed optimism about news media, which he purportedly believes to be thriving and expanding thanks to the explosion of online media outlets, Ainsley, whose realm of expertise is in marketing the product Baron and the Globe’s reporters create, has found his job increasingly difficult, as even staples of newspaper income, such as classified advertising, goes on the Web for free.
“From the business side [of the newspaper industry], without an innate belief that you’re doing ‘God’s work’, you’ll sell something else,” Ainsley said in defense of the passion he shares with Baron for journalism despite the misconception that publishers care more for “Everyone who works at a newspaper has an underlying core belief that you’re changing your community for good.”
He added that the future news products, like its author, must be “considerably more flexible” and agile and “news organizations that thrive will take smart, calculated risks at the right time.”
It appears, then, that both men expect not only veracity but versatility from this next generation of newsmen, who must be both technologically adept and business-savvy and must service a public already saturated with easily accessible information.
“Why should someone go into journalism?” Baron said, voicing the question of every aspiring journalist. “Opportunities are expanding, people have the chance to move ahead in a field that in the past would have taken them a long time to move forward in.”