June 16, 2009

Something special: Looking back at newspaper careers

This was a weekend that had three former reporters looking at their careers while Twitter exploded with moans about mass media failures.

That explosion prompted Louis Gray, who blogs mostly about technology and social media but obviously cares about journalism, to ask his audience if it wants old media to die or thrive.

The former newspaper addict wants to know if the harsh criticism of CNN and mass media is to show how bad it is or "we want to bash the old media when we don’t need them, but flock to them when we do."

Check the conversation on his blog post. for the answers. As Gray says, some folks seem eager to attack all that is wrong with mass media and not pay for any services but then "we hold them accountable for not being there, first to respond" when a real newsworthy event happens.
"Journalism is not a charity event. Its reporters cost money, as do papers and stations’ branch offices, travel expenses, and equipment, yet many of us on the bleeding edge are all too excited to mention how we’re not paying them a dime."
But I don't want to talk about dimes today. I need something lighter to balance my real life.

Journalism privileges

There are a lot of great things about being a journalist, special privileges even.

As Grand Rapids Press Editor Mike Lloyd creeps closer to retiring, he is sharing photos and stories of visits with presidents and presidential wanna-bes. It is part of his series updating stories from his career at the Grand Rapids Press.

A note from a reader led him to update what happened 13 years after a career day visit. The once curious student is still curious, now at Newsday.

Another graduation gave him a reason to remember the class of 1986 and one "superstar." In fact, the annual 100 Superstars feature is what Lloyd calls a highlight of his career. It features outstanding seniors, positive news stories.

Some in the community, like George Woons, agree that Lloyd's project was a good one. Woons was at the meeting when the name of "Superstar Seniors" was proposed for the section. Lloyd writes that Woons said:
"It was a great title that captured everything we were trying to do. You grabbed it and ran with it, and you're still running with it. Superstar Seniors is a heck of a gift to the community from The Press."
Making the right choice

Also looking back is a publisher who recalls days as young reporter and the idealism of the 1970s while reminiscing about "late baby boomers who cut our freak flags and went into business and the professions."

John Christie, now publisher of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, concludes:
"And I'd like to think that putting out a newspaper is a good use of a lifetime, too."
I think Lloyd would agree. Just don't expect agreement from President Obama’s senior adviser David Axelrod, who spoke to 1,300 DePaul University College of Communications graduates over the weekend.

Journalism changes

Several news organizations reported that Axelrod left journalism to pursue a career backstage of politics because the field was becoming "more business than calling."

At first, I thought it mightbe a story about one more person who decided to take the high road and leave journalism because of business pressures.

But the more I looked into his background, I think it might be more that the politics of the newsroom became less inviting then the possibility of putting people into office. It doesn't take much research to learn that his interest in politics started when he was a kid.

Yes, you can

Certainly, Axelrod used his journalism experiences effectively in helping others get elected or get their messages out. That means he can serve as a model for transferring journalism skills to other fields to the many journalists out of the newsroom now.

Axelrod, who graduated from the University of Chicago, holds out hope that the graduates will change journalism and pursue with passion.
“Your generation changed politics forever. There’s no reason you can’t do the same wth journalism, radio and the Internet or any other field.”
Also from the Chicago Sun-Times, which reported that he shared stories about his days in college, is why he once wanted to be a journalist:
“In those days, superb reporting played a historic role in uncovering the truth, shining a bright light on events like Vietnam and Watergate. Journalists heped save the republic, and I wanted to be a part of that."
The Chicago Tribune hired him when he graduated with a degree in politics in 1977. Within a few years, he was able to combine two passions - journalism and politics - by becoming the newspaper's political writer.

Receipts, not reporting

The Sun-Times reported he told the graduates:
"But, over time, things changed. By the mid-1980s, journalism was becoming more business than calling. The front office began to take over the newsroom. The emphasis went from veracity to velocity, from reporting to receipts.”
So, in 1984 Axelrod left what was "more business than calling" to work on a political campaign. He moved on, eventually owning two consulting firms and building a successful career in politics behind the scenes. That career includes working on Detroit's Dennis Archer's campaign.

Perhaps what the students should remember is that when Axelrod collected degree in politics in 1977 he had no idea that one day he'd be advising the president of the United States. They can also review those 40 reasons why studying journalism is a good idea.

Even frogs can report

Do you need an uplift? Check out this article about the career path of reporter Kermit over on the Muppet Wiki.

Or perhaps you are ready to check out what Darlene Koenig , has been up to with Worthless Gifts for Print News Veterans on Facebook. Last I looked there were at least 72 items to send to friends. The owner of Koenig Educational Media keeps adding gifts to the application created in late March.

I especially like her names for objects - messy desks become "time-honored filing system" while a film cannister is "an all-purpose container." "Night shift wheel of death" is the vending machine and "old school filing center" is a pay phone.

On LinkedIn, she's described as an "award-winning writer and editor, combining a journalist's background with additional experience in children's media and education. Particular interests include government, political science, geography, literature and media literacy and their application to students in the real world."

I'd say she has a way with words and quite a memory.

Related posts:
Another editor leaving Booth

Facebook quiz leads to post-journalism jobs

Storyteller won't get regrets from me

Around the 'net:

Tired of my voice? Check A lost opportunity to talk to Grandmother


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