By Adam Ward
A couple of weeks ago I attended a benefit dinner for the Daily Utah Chronicle. This is an annual event where journalism veterans mingle with University of Utah student journalists and raise some money for scholarships.
The guest speaker that evening talked a lot about the demise of traditional media. He approached the topic from the business side of media, particularly newspapers, and how the old business model that traditional media companies are still clinging to don’t work. This was not new information to those in attendance, most of whom come from the editorial side of the media, not the business side.
I kept waiting for the speaker to offer some solutions, but he essentially ended by saying he didn’t have any, but he hoped the students there in attendance would figure it out.
That got me thinking about what the students would say if they had been standing behind the microphone. They have clearly made a conscious decision to learn the craft of journalism, knowing that the industry associated with journalism is having a tough time. I don’t know what those students were thinking during the speech that evening, but I admire them for choosing their paths, despite such seeming opposition.
When I was a journalism student many years ago, I often had people ask me why I chose that field, telling me reporters 1) don’t make much money and 2) are disliked almost as much as lawyers. But as I look back on my career, I’m amazed at how well my journalistic training has served me. So for all the naysayers out there, I’m writing this post in defense of journalism.
Good Writing Never Hurts
In an age where college students write term papers the same way they text their friends, communication seems to be on its way to becoming a lost art. At least communication where the implied meaning is clear. Journalists are taught to write without ambiguity. I would love it if everyone I did business with wrote clear, concise, complete emails to me so I don’t have to spend time trying to interpret their meanings.
We live in an era where good writing skills are arguably more important than ever. Between email, blogs, text messages and Facebook, people as a whole are writing more than ever before. In fact, I would guess many people communicate more through writing each day than through speaking. But just because people are writing more doesn’t mean they are writing better. Journalists are, not surprisingly, excellent writers.
Journalists are Fanatic Fact-Checkers
Just being a good writer isn’t enough. With so much information available to us through modern media channels, it becomes increasingly harder to filter out the junk. Just because you read it on the Internet, do you really believe it? I’ll bet you’ve found completely differing opinions from “gurus” on the web, right?
Journalists are trained to double-check their facts and sources. Their reputations and livelihood depend on it. And as a side benefit, that training is fully transferable. Not all journalists write for newspapers. Think of how the world would improve if the technical writers who write documentation were as diligent in checking their facts as news reporters were, or how we’d be able to trust marketing campaigns if we knew they were written by trained journalists.
Without Content You Have Nothing
Whether new media or traditional media, the business side of any media company relies on its product, and its product is content. Although content can be video, podcasts, radio, etc., someone still had to write that content. So without talented writers, those companies would have no content. It goes without saying, then, that without training the next generation of writers and journalists, the quality of that content goes down the tubes. And if your content is not worth anything, how can you monetize it?
And it isn’t just the media companies that rely on writing for content. Even businesses that sell tangible products still have to do a lot of writing in the process. That’s why MBA programs require students to take a business writing class. In my responsibilities as a non-journalist, I’ve written software documentation, marketing brochures, video scripts, business contracts, website copy, product descriptions, and more (like this blog).
We Live in a Democracy
Last, I’d like to point out probably the biggest defense of journalists, and why it is so important for young journalists to learn the trade. Regardless of the medium used, we will always have a need for journalists. Our very democracy hinges on it. Most politicians don’t like reporters. And for good reason. If we as a citizenry don’t know what they are up to, they have little reason to keep our best interests in mind. And without committed journalists on the front lines holding the politicians’ feet to the fire, tirelessly fact-checking their stories and letting us know what’s going on in the world, nation and our communities, we would be clueless.
So I want to thank and encourage all the journalism students out there for learning their craft. Whether they end up using their skills in a newsroom or in a boardroom, the world will be a better place.