We need a tourniquet

Showing a wonderful knack for walking a thin line between cheerful acceptance and justified complaining, Meranda Watling tells us what it’s like to be the youngest reporter in the newsroom:

  • How her opinions are often sought out but, almost as often, ignored.
  • How she sees and hears stupid ideas that no one in her age group would respect.
  • How she wonders whether she’s wasting her time, even though she loves her job.

Plus, read all the comments on the Newsosaur’s post about the brain drain from newspapers. He’s talking about a legion of Merandas who are giving up and leaving because it’s so obvious to them that management has no clue what readers want or respect. The comments back him up, again and again. (That persistent sound you hear is our lifeblood leaking out.)

11 Comments on “We need a tourniquet

  1. Pingback: Here in Katie’s Head » Too young to sell out, too stifled to be content

  2. I read all the comments, very insightful. I knew things were bad but not this bad!

  3. But how come when I go talk with our newsrooms, the people resistant to change, the ones who ask questions like, “If we publish our stories on the web before print, won’t be tipping our competition?” are always, always, the youngest reporters on staff. They’re also the ones most likely to say things like, “I didn’t get in this business to shoot video. I’m a print reporter.”

    The gray hairs are usually the most enthusiastic and ready to try something new.

  4. Probably none of this depends solely on age or years of experience. I chat with a lot of students who say they only want to write. Those students don’t sign up for our online journalism classes, for the most part.

    On the other hand — the students who seek out the online journalism classes and get really enthusiastic about them? Those are the students who often feel horribly disillusioned after just one internship. What is their complaint? “All they let me do was copy and paste.”

    Some of them abandon journalism because of their internship experiences. It’s not that they think the monkey work is beneath them, but rather that thy have all these great skills and no chance to put them to use.

  5. I’m not disillusioned at all. If I were, I would have jumped ship when I had the chance.

    I do feel very fortunate for the opportunities I have been given here. I just wish I had more of the opportunities I really want, the things I personally think would be really cool and would work, as well as some chances at shooting video — which I’m still not doing even though I should be by now.

    To be honest, I know my chances to dabble at this paper are better than they would be at most, both with online, such as the micro-site and the fact that within a month of arriving I was posting stories to the Web unsupervised, but especially off, where I’ve never had a story idea flat out rejected and where working on enterprise isn’t just a dream it’s an expectation (but again, without additional hours to squeeze it in beyond my often-overwhelming daily grind, which I think was what was meant by my plate already being full). For my complaints, I really think the blog was the first thing I’ve ever personally been told no to, and even that wasn’t an adamant, don’t ever bring it back up, definitive “absolutely not.” It felt more like a, “I don’t think you’re ready for more responsibility because we’ve already piled you with plenty of other things to get accomplished.” Which is true, I am always swamped with more work than is probably realistic and I have a tendency to not know my limits.

    The fortunate thing is unlike many of the comments on the Newsosaur and even my post, I’m not at a paper where simply copying and pasting is good enough. They are pushing for more online in various realms. I’m just not getting to be as big a part of it as I’d like. And that is what frustrates me because that’s where my interests lie.

    The thing I also realize, and don’t think I made the point clearly in my post, is that I don’t blame my company or bosses. I feel I am responsible for my own destiny. The reality is, I am doing what I was hired to do. So in light of the fact that I now know I need to prove to my editor I can clear my plate and leave room for dessert (the blog, video, etc.), I’m just going to have to work harder to make that known.

  6. Thanks for commenting, Meranda. I think it’s very good to hear what you have to say, especially when some people are having experiences like Howard’s (comment above yours, here).

    Everyone’s looking for a way to save journalism. I think one of the necessary steps is to give more power to our youngest journalists — but not the ones who only want to write, who dream of bringing back a time now gone, when print was king of the hill.

    Editors need to find the young journalists like Meranda — and not the other kind — and give them the reins. Not all day, every day. But let them drive, with supervision.

    It’s a big piece of what we need now.

  7. Also, note that many of the young’ens resistant to change were educated by old-school journalists in college. I imagine that plays partly into it. Those who just want to write is probably the other half.

  8. I’m glad you’ve posted an entry about the “Brain Drain” Mindy. I did the same Friday morning, and came to a similar conclusion.

    As Howard attests, a lot of this is going to vary from paper to paper. I had a great experience in Roanoke, but even there I felt a pang of pushback.

    I’ve lectured to several university classes where students are adamant they learn the “print” way of doing journalism. This despite what the market actually demands (online).

    Much of this, like Nick points out, is due to how journalism is being taught. Hopefully, schools will collect more professors such as yourself that push a progressive agenda.

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  10. Here’s an anecdote: Journalism student goes to a job fair, meets with reps from several newspapers. Student understands scripting, PHP, ActionScript, and is learning databases. A rep from one newspaper is dismayed because the student has very few (not none; very few) clips of articles published. Rep is not interested in student.

    Newspapers say they want to find the next Holovaty, and then they send a clueless idiot to interview the students at a job fair. Doh!

  11. But Mindy, what is that student doing with scripting, PHP, ActionScript and so forth?

    I’ve seen plenty of programmers and designers parachute into a newsroom with a mandate to do whatever they want with the site. For every Holovaty, there are plenty of disastrous experiments.

    That doesn’t mean the paper shouldn’t take the risk, but students shouldn’t think picking up a few programming skills should warrant automatic hiring in a newsroom.

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