Old traditions don?t cut it in print journalism

I remember standing in the beverage line, napkin in hand, nibbling on a partially thawed coconut shrimp appetizer, when the flimsiness of my career choice became a reality.

It was my fourth day working at the Los Angeles Times and I stood there frozen, taking in the scene of what would have appeared like a wake to an outsider. Roughly a hundred people meandered about the room, reveling ‘the good times,’ like war veterans telling stories of triumph. It was a macabre affair to be certain-after all, these people were being let go. This was all part of corporate downsizing amidst a rapidly changing journalism landscape.

I watched in astonishment as one Pulitzer Prize winning writer after another gave farewell speeches and toasted their colleagues. That day about 70 writers and editors were laid off, and just four short months later, 135 more mothers, fathers and household providers were forced to turn in their press-passes as well. The second group had a less auspicious send-off.

What became shockingly clear was that it was not only likely that I would see the death of print journalism in my lifetime, but that I may have a front row seat to its demise while still in school.

I mean let’s face it, the newspaper business is struggling mightily right now’mdash;that’s no secret.

Gone are the days of big expense accounts and town cars idling in the parking structure ready to whisk away a reporter to LAX for breaking news across state-lines. The job is changing, and everything is shifting to a web-based format, which offers little in regards to revenue.’ Worse still is that in a job market that is piss poor to begin with, print journalism is leaving those befuddled souls in Detroit feeling a great deal better about their futures.

Even Russ Stanton, editor of the Los Angeles Times, was far from optimistic regarding the longevity of newspapers existing beyond the baby boomer generation ‘- which in his opinion is the only American population that even bothers to read newspapers at all.

‘I don’t think we’ll see the death of newspapers in my lifetime ‘hellip; you might see it in your lifetime,’ he admitted. ‘There are precious few readers under the age of 35.’

But if print is dying, and all indications would suggest that it is, then what is the point of teaching print journalism in school?

A mere two semesters away from graduating with a journalism degree, with a newspaper emphasis, and I find myself wondering how the last four years might have been better spent.

Take college newspapers for example ‘- one of the requirements for print journalism majors here at CSUN ‘- these establishments are in desperate need of a makeover. The whole process is antiquated. They are the word-based equivalent of film photography or learning Latin, which is a nice skill, but completely useless in the modern world. Student newspapers, as they are currently constructed, should remain at the junior-high level alongside woodshop and metalshop. I’m sure, at one time, learning how to construct a metal lunchbox or put together a wooden lamp was considered a savvy skill set, but those days are a faint memory in the history of vocationism.

Stanton stressed that today’s journalists need to be as versatile as possible. ‘Coming out of journalism school you have to have some rudimentary skills in how to shoot video, how to blog, how to write a story, how to take pictures and if you have some audio skills that would be a good thing too.’

What this means at the college level is that student newspapers need to be focusing on the shift to convergence, much like its real life counterpart. Every journalism student needs to be cross trained in all concentrations in order to be valuable post-college and it’s the responsibility of administrators in charge of these programs to implement these changes.

‘I’ve spoken to several colleges and journalism schools this year and a lot of them still have a broadcast major and a program for print,’ Stanton said. ‘I’m telling these guys why don’t you combine them into one, that’s where the whole market’s going.’

Yet here at CSUN there remains a clear-cut division among the journalism program in the form of public relations, radio, broadcast, magazine and newspapers.

Imagine the impact of being cross-trained in all of these concentrations would have on students’ prospects upon entering the job market. Possessing a skill set with that kind of versatility would place us at the forefront of today’s demands and give us an edge in a tight business. The way in which our program is currently set-up is failing not only to students enrolled in the program, but also to the future of print journalism.

‘We can’t stay wedded to our old traditions,’ Stanton added. ‘Because clearly they’re not going to work for us in the longer haul.’