"Why are you still a journalist?” was a heavy place to start this ongoing conversation, I know. But wherever you are in your career, think back to the people you started with. Are they still around?
In 2000, a few weeks after graduating from college, I joined the Peace Corps. There’s no journalism program for Peace Corps volunteers. But I knew a few things at 22: Being unattached was a good time for big adventures, and if I was going to spend the rest of my life telling other people’s stories, I wanted to have some good ones of my own, too.
Something like 24 of us left Miami for Guyana. After two years, there were eight left.
Those of us who stuck around weren’t braver, stronger or better. In fact, if anyone was taking bets, I was probably on the early departure list. But we each had our own reasons for hanging on, even when it would have been much easier to leave.
That’s true for journalists, too. I wanted to start this conversation with a kind of table setter. In the months ahead, we’re going to drill down into what skills we need, what skills we no longer need, how we get to know our audiences and more.
But I have a feeling this topic will come up again and again. In an industry that endures constant churn, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves what we stick around for now and then.
Sometimes I wish journalism had a snappy motto like the Peace Corps does. “The toughest job you’ll ever love,” was, at least for me, incredibly accurate. Maybe we can co-opt another version of that from the man who was the country director while I was in South America.
He wasn’t great with words. But he was fun to drink with, and his recollection of the Peace Corps motto was something like: “It’s the best job you’ll ever have in your life, ever.”
A lot of us still feel that way about journalism. Now, let’s figure out how to make it better.
Some themes came up in the last few weeks that deserve a bit more attention. These first three are for you, editors and bosses. You listening?
Yes, newsrooms are smaller. You still have to develop your employees.
Some ideas for this:
– Foster an environment where different generations can learn from each other.
– Look for opportunities for staffers to develop outside the newsroom. I promise, they’ll bring what they learn back.
Want to keep journalists in local newsrooms? Avoid burning them out.
– Finding some balance yourself.
– Be intentional about what you do. You can’t do everything you used to with a third of the people you once had.
– Take your time off. Actually take it. It is yours. See what happens.
Finally, take a minute to acknowledge your people.
– Learn how and when to praise the good stuff.
– Give your employees more money.
– If you can’t give them more money, a day-off pass would be amazing.
Here are a few other things that deserve more of our time. I don’t have answers to these, so write me or tweet at me with your thoughts and I’ll share:
– How can journalists become more nimble?
– How can we better connect our work to our communities?
– And if, as Tony said last week, this really is just a business, how else should newsrooms be making money?
OK, that's a wrap for our first four-week discussion. Thanks for being a part of it.
Next week, we’re beginning a new topic that I’m really excited about. We’ve established why we’re still here. Now, let’s talk about what skills we need to stay in journalism.
Next week, you’ll get to sit in on a really great conversation between two Southern journalists who, to me, represent the best of two different generations. Al.com’s Shauna Stuart, the Clarion-Ledger’s Jerry Mitchell and I talked about their careers and what skills they need.
At some point during the conversation I thought to myself, “Whoa, I’m like a matchmaker for new journalism friends!”
Speaking of skills, apply to ProPublica’s summer Data Institute. National Press Foundation has a cool (all-expenses paid) fellowship on agriculture and food. Poynter's having an event in San Francisco next month on building trust with our audiences.
And happy Sunshine Week!
Now I’m going to enjoy some sunshine, beach time and maybe read a real book before returning to the best job I’ll ever have in my life.