Just before I began journalism school, nearly 20 years ago, I attended an orientation for new students. I was seated at a table with the Dean, an award-winning print and broadcast journalist, who asked me point blank if I thought newspapers were eventually going to disappear. “I certainly hope not,” I answered, “I can’t imagine not starting my day with a cup of coffee and a newspaper.” Indeed, the Internet was in its infancy, cell phones were tiny, laptops were big and bulky and analog video was still the reigning format for TV news.
But the writing was on the wall (no pun intended) and our university had just created a cutting edge, high tech program for incoming students called “Online Journalism.” The younger undergrads and my young grad school classmates flocked to the program, eager to learn this new technology. But me, I wanted no part of it. I had waited a long time to pursue my passion for journalism and I was determined to rely on traditional, time honored, reporting methods. In fact, I continued to take notes and do my writing in long hand in a spiral notebook.
Those that don’t evolve are soon left behind and after much teasing by my 20-something classmates, I taught myself to compose my assignments on my computer. When the school built a multi-million dollar state of the art digital newsroom, I registered for classes to learn how to navigate the world of digital news reporting. I actually enjoyed the process and was pretty good at editing.
Imagine my surprise when my first job after grad school, at a local public radio station, required me to learn how to record on and edit reel-to-reel tape! The 50-year-old station still hadn’t upgraded to the digital technology I’d worked so hard to learn. But in time, they also made the switch.
These days, my tools of the trade are all contained in my IPhone. I can take notes, record, edit and upload stories to the cloud, all from a device that fits in my pocket and weighs a few ounces. Both audio and video quality is sharp and I can produce stories anywhere at any time. Rather than wait in a newsroom for an assignment or a call from a source, I can be on the job all the time, anywhere. The news cycle is now 24 hours and the churn is never ending.
So how has this new digital world affected the profession of journalism itself? Here the waters are much murkier. Questions about what is news and who is a journalist are much more complicated now that pretty much anyone with a phone or a laptop can record and report on events. And the quality and quantity of product also raises questions about what is news and what is entertainment. There are more podcasts, blogs, vlogs and online programming than can be counted, and the numbers grow exponentially. The simple question about the survival of newspapers seems quaint in today’s world where even venerable publications have laid off print staff in favor of bloggers, podcasters and online producers. Is this bad? I’m not sure. The world is both expanding and shrinking as new technology connects us all in ways we never dreamed of when I started school.
What’s up ahead? It’s unclear where this digital revolution is taking us. My hope is that whether through formal education or trial and error, there will always be those people who are our eyes and ears throughout the world; people with integrity who can report honestly and fairly, shine a light on events and be a watchdog, a voice for those who have no voice. For whatever form it takes, that is the mission of good journalism and there is no substitute.
Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant. She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation. The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors. Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com. If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.
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