A few years back, about the time I retired from teaching journalism, I became comfortable with a question my former newspaper colleagues would frequently ask, often from behind a sneer: Are you still encouraging students to go into journalism?
I became comfortable with the question as I grew comfortable with my answer. You’re darned right I am, I would say. I meant it and I would still mean it, were I in a comparable situation.
I understood why the question was being asked about that time as traditional news organizations in this country found their audiences diminishing along with the advertising dollars those numbers had justified.
One obvious way to offset loss of revenue was to trim payrolls. That resulted in newsroom staffs being cut outright or being offered buyouts by managements and fewer journalists being hired to replace them.
That was a reality those aspiring to go into the profession had to consider. So why would I defy the obvious and continue to encourage those who wanted to pursue it to do so?
At the same time I was able to tell my questioners that, somewhat to my surprise, bright, talented young men and women were still enrolling in journalism courses and declaring, proudly, that that was their chosen profession.
That reminded me why in the eighth grade I had veered away from a declared interest in medicine (surgery, preferably) and into an avowed interest in journalism (sports writing, preferablyâ€¦for a while anyway.)
First, I enjoyed writing. Second, I enjoyed being part of all the amazing events going on around me and having the opportunity to get to know those who were making them happen.
If I were coming out of high school now, I would consider that same career choice for much the same reasons.
Sure, journalism was and is changing, as is every other profession as they adapt to new technologies in coping with the new complexities that are part of a rapidly evolving culture.
The questions that I see being asked now with greater frequency are, first, can journalism in its various forms survive as a vital part of our self-governance, and, second, can this country as a whole, muster the willingness and wherewithal to sustain not only an essential journalistic underpinning, but also that of other critical institutions, such as government, business, education, and so on.
It’s long been recognized that self-governance is difficult. It demands of every one of us that we really care about what’s going on and that we put a measure of our knowledge and skills into making it function for the benefit of all.
Being constantly and capably informed contributes to that involvement.
That’s why we need some of our best writers, story-tellers and advocates of responsible citizenship to commit to the practice of journalism, whether traditional or emerging.
Cliff Rowe is a retired journalist and journalism professor. (He practiced both in a time before journalists and what they produced were considered “enemies of the people.”) He and his family have lived in the Shorewood area of White Center (then Burien) since 1969 when they returned to the Northwest after seven years in the Chicago area. There, following graduate school, he wrote and edited with the Chicago Sun-Times and with Paddock Publications in the Chicago suburbs. On moving here, he was with The Seattle Times for 11 years before turning to teaching journalism at Pacific Lutheran University for 35 years, retiring in 2015.
We need journalists today perhaps more than ever. The White House is incapable of transparency and can’t or won’t tell the truth. Without journalists we would not know the truth. Fake news? No! Fake President? Yes!
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