By paulgillin | October 3, 2008 - 9:42 am - Posted in Google, Hyper-local

We constantly hear about the angst that aspiring young journalists face as they wrestle with the decision of whether they made a huge mistake in choosing journalism as a career. Let us share a story that hopefully provides some encouragement. We can’t name all the names because we don’t have permission.

A friend of ours has a son attending a Boston area university.  In his sophomore year, this young man found himself interning at the Boston Globe, where he worked the overnight shift on the rewrite desk.  This past summer, the Globe offered him the opportunity to write a daily blog about activities in the New England area.  Last month, the young man headed back to school and a paid internship at a major newspaper, where he is spearheading an initiative to build a new online community.  This young man is 21 years old.

There’s a lesson in this anecdote.  The decline of traditional media creates huge opportunities for those who have the stomach to take a chance. Back in the 1970s, the conventional wisdom was that the path to a journalism career involved slaving away at a small daily paper, working for food and rent and hoping to catch the eye of a big-city editor.  Today, so few young people want to go into journalism that the opportunity for those who do is virtually limitless.

Savvy investors know that the people who make the biggest killing in any market are those who are willing to buy when everyone else is selling.  The field of journalism right now is a buyers market for the few who buck the conventional wisdom.  Newspapers may not survive much longer in their print form, but most people agree that the core skills of journalism will be needed in one way or another long into the future.  Risk-takers like our young journalist are capitalizing on this trend to gain experience and visibility that a decade or two ago would have taken many years of hard and anonymous work.

That’s why it’s a great time to get into a journalism career.  The current malaise about media will eventually give way to optimism about new models.  The people who have gained the core skills that are necessary to succeed in a reinvigorated industry will rocket ahead in their careers.  Sure, there’s plenty of uncertainty about what media institutions will look like in the future, but if you’re willing to take a chance, you stand to reap huge rewards.  Newspapers are hungry for new ideas, and the best ideas are coming from the generation of young people who aren’t burdened by a romantic attachment to the past.  There’s never a better time to take risks than when you’re in your 20s.  My friend’s young son knows that, and we predict he will be one of the big winners when the trend inevitably reverses itself.

Redesigning Newsrooms

The Tampa Tribune will introduce a new design on Monday, and it’s keeping the details secret. The St. Petersburg Times has some inside dope, though. An interesting sidelight is that the merged Tribune/WFLA/ newsroom is also being redesigned around these subject areas: data, deadline, watchdog journalism, personal journalism and grassroots. We wouldn’t have thought of those ourselves. Give credit to Executive Editor Janet Coats, who’s communicating some urgency: “For most of us, it’s only been in the last year to 18 months that we’ve started getting away from the idea that the Web site is the newspaper on a computer screen . . . I’m worried that if we don’t change how we think about this further it won’t matter what falls through the cracks because we’ll have no readers.”

Speaking of redesigning the process, editors at the UK’s Birmingham Post, Sunday Mercury and Birmingham Mail are also turning the newsroom on its head. Editors Weblog reports that the three papers now share a physical space and some resources. The process of publishing news story has been condensed from five steps to three, with online leading the way. News editing and production have been merged into a single stage. Reporters carry laptops and video cameras and can file from anywhere. There’s been tension, of course; 65 jobs were eliminated in the redesign and staffers were made to re-apply for available positions. However, these three paper are envisioning a future and doing something about it, which is what we call leadership.

Editor Quits, Speaks

Yesterday, we noted the resignation of Steven A. Smith as editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review in protest of job cuts that he said were cheapening the product. Knight Digital Media Center caught up with Smith for an interview and provides interesting background. If you think this guy is some old-line curmudgeon who won’t face up to new realities, think again. Smith has actually be an outspoken proponent of the need to change calcified newsroom thinking and to reinvent newspapers around digital platforms. He conceived of an innovative idea to invite readers to observe and participate in daily news meetings. There’s more detail in the Knight story. We think Steven Smith won’t have trouble finding a job. Vision like that is still rare in this business.


Calamity and politics are good for online traffic. The Washington Post’s Web site,, scored a 42% jump in year-over-year traffic. The trend was driven, not surprisingly, by political and business stories.

Google says it’s figured out a way to tell when bloggers are writing news. A new feature of Google Blog Search shows categories of blog entries in a left sidebar. In some cases, the popularity of topics is displayed in chart form on the right. Here’s an example.

And Finally…

When you can’t beat ’em, steal ’em. Fading to Black has a short item about a newspaper war in the San Francisco Peninsula area that heated up this week when the San Francisco Examiner caught a delivery man for the Palo Alto Daily Post apparently stealing copies of the Examiner as he delivered his own newspaper. When confronted and asked to open his trunk, the man had more than 1,000 copies of the rival newspaper stashed away. Maybe he just had a lot of birdcages to line.



This entry was posted on Friday, October 3rd, 2008 at 9:42 am and is filed under Google, Hyper-local. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments Off on Why It's a Great Time to Get Into Journalism


  1. October 3, 2008 @ 4:04 pm

    Give me a break. I follow this blog with interest every day, but your anecdote about the 21-year-old, shiny-eyed future star of journalism blogging away at the Boston Globe made me groan out loud. The kid is surely making squat to churn out blog posts in a sinking newspaper’s desperate attempt to remain relevant. I’ll bet he doesn’t last 10 years before the shitty salary and hours force him to hit the eject button, like it has for so many of us.

    Posted by Jim Trueblood
  2. October 3, 2008 @ 4:27 pm

    […] No Newspaper Death Watch: Why It’s a Great Time to Get Into Journalism […]

  3. October 3, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

    […] • Yes, opportunities do abound, but you’ve got to know how to look for them. […]

  4. October 3, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

    I go through Spokane all the time to visit relatives who live nearby, and while you might characterize Smith as someone sweeping away calcification, you would not and could not say that if you read the Spokane Spokesman Review for any period of time. I travel quite a bit, and I would classify the Spokesman Review as undoubtefly one of the country’s lightest and least readible paper.

    Posted by edward
  5. October 3, 2008 @ 10:19 pm

    Jim: I understand your cynicism, but if you remember what it was like being 21, this kid is living a dream. Give him a break.

    Edward: I can’t say I’ve ever seen the Spokesman-Review, so I defer to your judgment. However, there are a lot of reasons a paper could be difficult to read that are outside of the editor’s control. Smith does have a reputation for thinking outside the box.

    Posted by paulgillin
  6. October 7, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

    I want to be optmistic about the future of newspapers. I really do. And when I came across your blog, it lifted my spirits a little to know there’s some people who don’t see the world coming to an end.

    I’m a newspaper reporter who is only a few years older than your friend’s son. In the past year, I have heard nothing except the world is ending (and this is coming from the editors). And with all the lay offs, I feel like they’re right. I love my job more than anything and I know it would be very difficult to find another job I enjoy so much, but sometimes I feel I have no choice but to look elsewhere.

    But maybe you’re right and there is a glimmer of hope…I’m young and computerish…but who knows. But thanks for being positive for all of us young journalists out there who feel like they jumped on a crashing train. 🙂

    Posted by Fanny
  7. October 10, 2008 @ 9:44 am

    Fanny: Be optimistic! You can accomplish in one year what it took people 20 years older than you five years to accomplish back in the 1980s. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about journalism, even if there aren’t many reasons to be optimistic about newspapers. Specialize, learn all the multimedia skills you can and don’t be afraid to promote yourself. This chaos will pass and the market will reinvent itself. You’re in a good position to take advantage of that.

    Posted by paulgillin