Last week at work was interesting and busy, though not because of any news events, which usually are what keep me glued to my email and Twitter long after I’ve left the office. (Obviously, the polar vortex did occupy some of my time, but not in the way that breaking news can suddenly make your 8-hour day an 11-hour day.) I taught seven training sessions for my journalist colleagues on how to use Storify to display Touts in a slideshow fashion — which led to several discussions about how the Internet gives us nearly unlimited possibilities when it comes to displaying content and data. The end of the week was filled with working on an internal project that focused strictly on that. So basically Jan. 6-10 really re-energized my desire to experiment, explore and play with news and information and the dozens of digital tools that the Internet has given us for free.
I’ve had more conversations than I can count with more people than I can name about the future of journalism — and newspapers in particular. Eight years ago (eeek — has it already been that long???), I wrote in my college newspaper that the print edition would continue being relevant for years to come, and all this talk about the Internet wasn’t going to change that. And I continued to believe that as I began my first job as a copy editor, and my second job as a copy editor who increasingly had to work with the website.
And then I went to library school — which really changed my perspective on what my newspaper was and what my news organization could be. The innovation of the people who worked in these buildings filled with books in order to better serve their communities was such an inspiration to how I approach my profession.
There’s actually quite a connection between libraries and newspapers. People rely on them for information and entertainment, to find out what’s happening in their neighborhood and around the world. They feel ownership over the institution — because their tax dollars fund it, or because their subscription helps to keep it circulating — and because it represents their community.
Newspapers and libraries have simultaneously fallen on difficult times. The decline in the U.S. economy was a double-punch to newspapers, which already were struggling on their own, and then again as car dealers — traditionally the biggest advertisers for newspapers — pulled back on advertising as their profits fell as consumers stopped buying new cars. And those same consumers who stopped buying new cars voted against levies that helped fund libraries, who had to limit their budgets and hours and cut back on materials. Oh and then there’s the Internet where everything is free (not true) and easy (also not true) and Google has everything I’ll ever need (definitely not true). While I was working in an industry that was trying to figure out what it was and its role in the future, I was in graduate school learning about how to work in an industry that had found itself in a similar situation.
So after a graduate degree, some staffing shifts, some company changes and a lot of hard work, I find myself in this awesome position where I can help all the talented journalists I work with learn that they aren’t limited to what fits in the (ever-shrinking) newspaper to tell the stories of their beats and provide good community service to their readers.
The newspaper is important and will be important for the foreseeable future. But it’s only part of our job now. We’re a news organization that has the good fortune of owning a three-story printing press that allows us to print and deliver the important news to tens of thousands of Northeast Ohioans — some of whom do not have access to the Internet or cable. But, the print audience is what it is, and the real opportunity for growth of our brand and product is online.
My older co-workers often reminisce about the way things used to be done and how there was no website or Twitter or Facebook or SMS alerts or video or live blogs, etc. Even without the real newsroom experience, I think my 21-year-old self was in love with the idea of a traditional newspaper setting. I mean, parts of me still love it. But the Internet is so exciting and so full of opportunity — and so much beyond hitting a specified word count by a certain time or your copy won’t be published.
Just check out some of the work that I’ve done recently that does not exist without digital tools — and has no actual print equivalent:
- Memories from Nov. 22, 1963
- Northeast Ohio cut-your-own tree farm guide and map
- Recycle Christmas trees at 15 Lake Metroparks locations
- Friday Night Live high school football coverage: News-Herald and Morning Journal
- Live blog on the polar vortex
Don’t mourn the death of newspapers. Enjoy them while they’re still here. But newspapers aren’t the be-all, end-all of the industry. If you’re a journalist who only thinks she is capable of working for a newspaper, then you’re going to watch yourself quickly become irrelevant. Journalism skills are transferable to multiple platforms (just ask the handful of my colleagues who were trained as broadcast journalists — or the thousands and thousands of journalists who have made the jump from news to PR). The Internet is such an exciting place to apply your skills and talents, and I am so excited to work with journalists who want to see how far they can go.
I didn’t spend as much time on my library analogy as I meant to in this post, but I’ll end with a tidbit. At Christmas, a relative who works in a school library asked if I was still a librarian. My answer was immediately yes — I completed six semesters of graduate work to earn those four letters after my name, and I will always be a librarian. But I am not the stereotypical hair-in-a-bun, glasses-wearing, shushing librarian (though really, that’s not even a thing anymore) (and sometimes I do dress and act like that). Nor am I a journalist in a traditional sense. I’m a librarian working in a journalism environment. I’m a journalist who brings librarian skills and expertise to every project. The two identities have been blended so much with how I approach my career that it’s hard for me to separate them now. And I couldn’t be more glad about that.