I am a journalist. I never thought I’d be so fortunate to say so. Since journalism was invented (this is an educated guess, based on the fact that reporters never change), the running joke in our field has been that the pay stinks, the hours are worse, but we wouldn’t give up our work for the world. If newspapers and magazines suddenly disappeared – a fate that once only seemed like fantasy – we’d find a way to keep telling stories even if it meant writing in our own private journals. And, with the field shrinking, that moment has arrived for many life-long journalists.
Career College Central began in what I expect will become the norm with upstart publications. The web site came first; then, once it established a following, the magazine followed three years later. Our original website drew a dedicated following of 100-or-so people before its proprietors decided to invest in it further. From the daily blog posts taken from other news agencies came the idea for fresh blogs written by industry experts, more in-depth feature stories that explain the career college angle to the day’s news – usually omitted by the traditional media – and whatever trends were rolling through the career college sector.
That is our publication’s story and it involves consistent change and evolution. What’s harder to evaluate is why career education should be experiencing so much success at a time when its biggest detractor, the traditional news media, is headed the opposite direction. It’s led me to evaluate my role in all this.
I am not sure how journalism found me, why I have a commitment to telling stories, and why I am like so many others in the field, but have managed to maintain a reporting job. My college journalism professor once told me that the way to find the best journalist in a news room is to listen for who tells the best stories. I am the worst story teller in my family, but I still think that must be pretty good.
Have you ever pulled a book down from a shelf and read a few lines, and those lines seemed meant for you? Writing came to me the same way. I wrote stories in notebooks when I was a kid and didn’t pick it up the habit again until I took some high school journalism classes because my friends were doing it. The first half of the year was about journalism law and understanding slander. We memorized important court cases and were tested on the rulings they yielded. Now? I couldn’t name a single one. I was there to put words down. I was there to tell stories and so thought the legal aspect to be a hindrance to something more important.
The real lesson we were learning was about the power journalists had. You were free to tell wonderful stories about people, but you also had to be careful in the way they were told, especially when being critical. The second part was about interviewing and writing. We covered interviewing more extensively than writing. In fact, I don’t recall any in-class writing assignments. In all our studies, we never discussed that newspapers might one day cease to exist, that the craft and trade would be changed by technology, that storytelling might never be the same.
Say what you want about the transition of news to the Internet. Journalism will be changed by it. It already has been. We already know that most people read differently on the web. They spend less time at that monitors than they do in chairs flipping through news-printed pages. The focus on storytelling will diminish as it has on newspaper pages. There had already been a reverse effect on print journalism in the last decade as editors put more emphasis on facts. Put the facts down quickly so you capture the reader, otherwise they’ll flip to the next page. This was how stories were being written for the web, and so the philosophy was that it would work in print, too.
The change should have gone the other way. Newspapers and magazines should have further entrenched themselves in storytelling and capitalized on the strengths of the printed word and the writers they have on staff. Surely their writers could have told more engaging stories than amateur bloggers. But instead, editorial boards at the nation’s largest newspapers caught up in the competition. They never saw that one day there was a possibility that their work might not have an outlet.
Journalism is fading away and with it the individual stories and experiences that color our lives. As the few remaining journalists, our commitment to you is to keep telling the often miraculous stories of our students who overcome so much not in hopes of changing the world for everyone, but for their kids … or their loved ones. Those are the real stories the traditional news media has ignored for years.
I love to write … for any medium. I would write if no one saw the words. But part of me wishes I had another skill – a recession-proof one tied to a growing job field – to fall back on. Perhaps journalists who have seldom written positively about career colleges should now consider career education. If that’s irony, then it’s either the best kind or the worst kind (depending on your perspective).