In my first week interning at The San Francisco Chronicle back in May, I was beside myself with excitement. Every day, I would skip into the building, in disbelief at where I was: the newsroom of a major newspaper, the buzzing brain of its city.
As the days went by, the excitement wore down, as it usually does when the new becomes the every day. And I have to admit that some days, when I entered the quiet newsroom, I felt like I was visiting somebody at their deathbed. This feeling would come and go, but I couldn’t help feel the dread. I know today that I was wrong to feel that way.
The people who fill the newsroom’s cubicles and offices are as alive as ever- even if they are fewer than ever before. Anybody who read yesterday’s Sunday Paper knows that quality journalism and writing is not a thing of the past. The proof is that there are several interns my age and younger at The Chronicle this summer who think it worthwhile to learn the ways of the newspaper industry, before it’s too late, to save what should be saved as so many (necessary) changes are being made in the media world. We are the next generation of writers, photographers, reporters… and we’re not giving up some things (like quality, depth) without a fight.
Newspapers are not dying, nor are the people who put them together. Yes, they are struggling, with advertisers going down, subscribers going down, page numbers going down… Yes, one day not too far in the future, they may not be printed on paper anymore. Yes, they will not have as much of a role in breaking news as they did in the past, in this age of instant information, Twitter and YouTube. But a newspaper is so much more than a paper with news on it… What it offers readers will survive, even if it looks a little bit different.
Many have labelled people my age, and a few years younger, a mindless generation, who cannot read more than 140 characters– just because their profit margins dropped drastically. People my age, all around me, are yearning for deeper stories and a deeper understanding of the world that only journalists and writers can give– and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, of course!
As content on the internet gets worse, there will be more demand for quality writing and journalism (as there already is). I am in my mid-twenties, and I demand it. So, I will ask you not to lose hope for my generation just yet. We may even produce better writing than our predecessors, because we aren’t as complacent.
To be sure, there is terrible content online these days that is competing with quality content for SEO headlines and hits. However, there has always been tabloids, trashy newspapers and gossip. Even though this is magnified online, it does not mean there is no room for the good stuff. We are seeing a delicate balance being struck on newer sites like The Huffington Post, Politico, The Daily Beast/Newsweek, and Time.com.
In my first week at The Chronicle, a pulitzer-prize winning photojournalist, now a teacher, was giving his students a tour of The San Francisco Chronicle newsroom. One editor joked to him, “Have you told them they won’t find jobs?” And he replied, “Well, that’s what they told me thirty years ago.” I couldn’t help but smile. It has always been a hard field to break into. All art is, and writing and journalism are both forms of art. It is heartbreaking that so many journalists were laid off a couple of years ago. I see the sadness in the Travel Section (which dwindled from 5 to 1), where I am interning now. But, when you think about it, so many people were laid off in almost all industries at the time- it wasn’t just media. Secondly, it has always been hard to write, to be published somewhere respectable… This is not a new phenomenon. Enough with the doomsaying about the future of journalism.
This all became clear to me today. It wasn’t an epiphany or anything. Rather, it was one well-written article after another that made me this optimistic.
It was an exceptionally beautiful day in San Francisco, after a couple of gray, misty weeks. I decided to ditch the underground food court I usually go to for a salad, and sit in a coffee shop in Union Square on my lunch break.
I took the Sunday Paper with me, read it cover to cover, and could not put it down– even the Sports Section!
I enjoyed so many beautifully written, important pieces. And yes, believe it or not, I was able to get through a whole article- several of them actually (to dispel the myth that early-twenty-somethings can’t read through a whole article). Some that really stood out to me:
And many more articles, but you get the idea…
This may just be my imagination, but I could swear that an elderly gentleman looked at me with a visible startle. A young person reading a print newspaper? It happens. And I am not alone. (OK, true, these days I am more likely to read on my iPad than in print, but I am still reading. That is what matters). We do love the Internet. We love free content. And we love the freedom to share information freely. But we also love good information and beautiful writing, and that still exists too. More importantly, it will continue to exist.
It’s time to stop the nostalgia for the giant, almost grotesque, profit margins of the past, and look to the possibilities of the future. There is still hope for journalism, and for writing.
Hope is a thing with feathers.
The young people blamed for the demise of quality and content are the same people spending their summers earnestly interning at newspapers, and all sorts of other publications, of course. Don’t give up on us just yet.