Journalism: now, then, and next

I’m currently volunteering at the wonderful Melbourne Writers Festival, and one of the  perks is a number of comp tickets that I can use to attend sessions outside of my volunteer shifts, and so on Saturday afternoon Erika and I met up at the State Library Victoria to see two panels. The first, When We Talk About Motherhood, was so incredibly, beautifully, terrifyingly powerful that I am still coalescing my thoughts about it, so instead I’ll talk about the second: Journalism: Heartbreak and Resolve.

Moderated by Crikey’s Bhakthi Puvanenthiran and featuring Erik Jensen from The Saturday Paper, Jack Latimore of NITV News and The Guardian, and freelance journalist Ginger Gorman, the discussion hinged on the mental hardships that journalists both encounter and face themselves, as well as the drive to keep going and the hopeful moments that uplift and empower them as well as their readers.

It was a fascinating look both at the industry today and the people in it, especially of the perspective of those who are working to expand and better it with their work and with their support of and amplification of marginalized voices (as writers and subjects), but it was especially interesting to me as I realised with a hint of amusement that it was exactly ten years ago last week that I began studying for my journalism degree at Ithaca College.

I was further amused when I thought about what these working journalists were saying the journalism world (a world I quickly decided at university that I wasn’t actually interested in being a part of) is like these days, and how far off most of my professors’s predictions had been about where the field was heading. This isn’t to say they got it all wrong, of course. They obviously knew that social media would play a large role in the future of the news (although just how large they couldn’t have predicted; one of the panelists mentioned how Instagram is becoming a popular platform for news media, a platform which didn’t even exist during my freshman year and wouldn’t introduce “Instagram Stories” until well after I graduated). And this isn’t to say they should’ve known better, not when new media has changed so rapidly and intensely over the last decade.

But one thing I distinctly remember about my journalism studies was a feeling of… if not pessimism, than resignation. That social media would make us short-attention-spanned and rapidly-reading, that we’d be cutting down our stories to snippets and soundbites. And sure, that’s happened, just like the ubiquity and accessibility of new media and social media has allowed for members of the worst factions of society to pretend their bigoted conspiracy theories are thoughtful, legitimate journalism but has also provided a space for marginalized voices of all sorts to share stories of and from their communities. And for every snapchat broadcast story and 140-character tweet, there’s a riveting 10,000 word longform article that would’ve never gone into print (at least without major cuts) in a traditional publication.

One thing that the journalists on the panel emphasized was that we as readers want to read. We want news. We want thoughtfulness and integrity and truth and rich, multicultural perspectives. Although I am not and probably never will be a journalist, I love journalism and many of my friends work in the media in some form, and I’m always pleased to have the reminder that what they do is appreciated. To look at the journalists on the panel, some saying that there were times that they wanted to quit but didn’t and others saying their worst moments only gave them more determination, to look at the people I know doing great work in new and old media, to look back a decade to when I was a bright-eyed wannabe newspaperwoman without a trace of anger or cynicism… it makes me excited to see what comes next.

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