Reflections on the future of journalism & newspapers

Journalism.

It’s the only profession codified in our nation’s Constitution, which guarantees us a free press, freedom to peacefully assemble, and freedom of speech in its first amendment.

It’s a job that when done well shines light where some people would prefer murky darkness.

Journalism is crucial to self-governance and democracy; the alternative is for the public to be fed spin and PR as fact.

It’s an important profession, even a calling for many of us.

For all of these reasons and more, the New Mexico Press Association hosts a High School Journalism Workshop, where professional journalists volunteer time mentoring young people in news writing, photography, ethics and more. This year I had the pleasure of being one of those journalists as president of NMPA.

The work of two of those students, from East Mountain High School, is featured in this week’s issue of The Independent.

Students gathered from around the state at the University of New Mexico on a Sunday night, where they started to get to know each other, and talk about journalism—and newspapers in particular.

The following two days were spent intensively learning from working journalists and starting work on their own stories. Students came up with the ideas for what to cover, while getting pointers on interviewing, photography, writing, editing and more.

Multiple award-winning photographer Roberto Rosales of the Albuquerque Journal gave students a crash course in famous photographs and the people who shot them, along with pointers on shooting news photos. Photo by Leota Harriman.

Just like in a real newsroom, things heated up in the hours before the publication went to press—and that moment Wednesday morning when the apprentice reporters opened up The Future Press in print and saw their own work in tangible form was just as gratifying as it is at a “real” newspaper. Feedback from the students said they liked being able to learn from real journalists and trying it out for themselves.

The journalists seemed to enjoy the time as much as the young people. I know I did.

So why should we spend time teaching teenagers how to produce a newspaper if the whole world is going digital, as the conventional wisdom says?

To start with, I am not in the “print is dead” camp. I would neither own a newspaper, nor lead the state’s newspaper association, if I didn’t fully believe in the power of the printed word, and newspapers in particular.

It is undoubtedly true that the media landscape has changed with the ubiquity of the internet. Journalists are the source of much online “content” passed around on social media platforms. The Independent has social media accounts and a website, where traffic exceeds our print edition—and has almost from the moment it went live.

Left, Barbara Beck, publisher of the Roswell Daily Record, and Jessica Onsurez, news director for Carlsbad Current-Argus, Alamogordo Daily News and Ruidoso News, right, looking at one of the plates from the printing press at the Albuquerque Journal, as workshop students look at the plates and printed pages. Photo by Leota Harriman.

As I see it, our challenge in the industry is to figure out how to meld the various platforms into the most useful for the public, with a viable revenue model for the business. For us, that is print + digital, as we experiment with what works best, just like nearly every other newspaper. We are committed to this because, in a word, journalism.

Journalism is when a reporter goes out “into the world,” sees what is going on, then reports it to others after checking on the facts. Newspapers excel at depth of coverage and background, which is in short supply on television news.

Newspapers clearly separate our opinion content (which tends to be a small percentage of our overall coverage) from our journalism, another big difference from both television and online “news” programming.

When the president of the nation decries “fake news,” it resonates with people because there is more truth there than many news outlets would like to admit. That’s especially true on television—where the talking head format of telling the public what they think the news means instead of simply relaying the news—seems to have taken over. On top of that, a 24-hour news cycle means that any tidbit, no matter how irrelevant or salacious, will be reported as hard news and debated ad nauseam. No wonder people are turned off.

Linda Johns of Des Moines High School and Caleb Worthen of Grants High School checking out their work in The Future Press. Photo by Leota Harriman.

In spite of all of that, the young people who attended the High School Journalism Workshop last week were curious about newspapers, journalism, and what was outside the classroom door when they went out to work on their own stories.

Their ideas were big, ranging from what happens to leftover food at the dorms to a proposed fence around the UNM campus and homelessness in the area. That curiosity about the world is the foundation of this profession, which never ceases to ask, “Why?”

We as newspaper journalists have a responsibility to pass down our passion for this work to younger generations, and to help them understand the issues we face as media continues to evolve. If we don’t do it, who will?

The High School Journalism Workshop is over for this year, but anyone interested in advance word on next year’s workshop can contact me at news.ind.editor@gmail.com, or the New Mexico Press Association at director@nmpress.org.

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