September 27, 2014
What should I say to a classroom full of journalism students looking for advice from an oldster about preparing for a career?
I do indeed have such a mission coming up, and I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. After all, what they’re going to see is someone whose journalism career crashed spectacularly with the failure of the Kamloops Daily News. My experience, which is sadly all too common, is not exactly a shining example for young people aspiring to a stable, well-paying vocation.
Likely, I’ll start off with some questions: First, who here is even contemplating a career in journalism? From what I understand, about half the students in the journalism program at Thompson Rivers University are actually looking forward to a career in public relations. For anyone wanting to make good money and eventually collect a pension, that would be the wise choice.
Still, when you’re young, you’re more likely to be idealistic, and that characteristic may enough to encourage many of them to try their luck with the perils of journalism. And, truth be told, things haven’t changed that much in the past 30 years or so.
I can still remember one of my journalism instructors in Vancouver telling us that we might be better off applying for jobs as “buggy boys” at Safeway. After all these years, you don’t hear about food stores going out of business very often. And you can still see employees gathering up shopping carts from the parking lots.
Meanwhile, three papers I’ve worked at — including The Daily News — have have gone down the tubes. The others were in Courtenay and Sechelt.
My next question for the students will be: who here is thinking about a career in newspapers? I’ll be surprised if even one hand goes up. I’m thinking that the really ambitious ones will be looking to the Internet and mobile apps. Exciting new ways of telling stories are coming up all the time. There may not be much money in journalism, but there’s plenty of innovation to support it.
In a sense, today’s journalism students will forever remain students. There will never be a time when they aren’t expected to learn new things. Social media and videos are just the beginning. Reporters who know some computer coding will have an edge. And they can presume that it won’t be long before the Internet is old hat. As I predicted last week, the reporters of the future will be giving guided tours from the scene of the news via virtual reality headsets.
And that might just be the point where journalism finds a new and sustainable business model. If virtual reality is half as big as I think it is going to be, people will be willing to pay a lot of money for the experience — money that can go toward paying journalists the decent salaries they deserve.
OK, so there’s the possibility I’m wrong about virtual reality. But if that doesn’t go anywhere, you can be sure that one of the other technologies bubbling below the surface will take its place. I’m thinking of artificial intelligence or augmented reality, for example.
So I’m going to tell the students that while things aren’t looking good right now, they should hold on to their idealism and believe in the future. It will be an adventure for sure, and they’ll be the ones helping to create it.