The guest of honour at a small luncheon hosted by Texas Christian University Chancellor Victor Boschini last week was David Sanger, chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times. The conversation among the 10 people gathered around the purple cloth-covered table quickly turned to the changes new technology is making to the news business, and the impact they would have on newspapers in particular.
During our discussion, I also heard myself saying things I was already planning to tell several hundred college journalists and instructors meeting in Fort Worth at the spring convention of the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association. I spoke there on Friday for their Hall of Fame Luncheon, which honoured two new inductees, broadcast legend Dan Rather and Kathleen McElroy, a former sports editor and editor for news administration for the Times.
As one who has been an eyewitness to change in the business, having been around since the Linotype machine (Google it), I told the students that although some newspapers may have the feel of mausoleums, don’t write the industry’s obituary just yet. Yes, we have changed, becoming a “digital first” enterprise with emphasis on getting information quickly to the website, often long before it appears in a print edition. Along with the printed word, we now have audio and video to help tell our stories.
But the main reason I’m convinced the industry is a long way from being on its deathbed is because of those young, eager, talented students I saw in that hotel ballroom who are the future of this business. I’ve been encouraged by the journalism I’ve seen taught and practised on college campuses.
These young men and women are able to report, write, photograph and use technology in ways that dazzle old fogies like me. Despite all their talents and capabilities, though, I told them: we still need more people in our profession with passion and compassion, who care about things that affect other people’s lives. I bluntly explained to them that I’d like to see more journalists interested in truth rather than gossip and rumour; willing to listen, in addition to asking questions; able to report facts instead of just voicing opinion.
While we still need watchdogs, we do not need pack dogs, lap dogs, dirty dogs or mad dogs – we’ve got enough of those. We don’t need you in this business, I said to them, if you are more concerned about what happens in people’s bedrooms than about what happens in the boardrooms, legislative hearing rooms, city council chambers and executive offices around the country.
Some of the young people told me they were ready to accept my challenge. After talking with them, seeing that determined look on their faces, I left feeling inspired, and confident that many in that room will enter the profession one day and take their rightful places as integral parts of the news-gathering industry. Long after I’m gone, there will be those who will keep coming, continuing to infuse new blood into a patient some already have declared dead or dying. They are our hope. They are indeed journalism’s future.