The job that I’ve spent the last year learning is not the one I’ll have

Being the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Tar Heel was an incredible learning experience. We made excellent strides with our reporting, we took big stands on important issues and we beautifully chronicled the best and the worst of this year.

The sad thing is that, for many people in our class, this post will probably be the first time they learn about some of our progress this year.

In some ways, it’s humbling to realize that this newspaper that I spend a lot of hours slaving over isn’t really beloved by my peers in the same way.

And that’s because we don’t read news the way our parents did. And we never will.

This class didn’t teach me that. Professors have been squawking that at me for many many years now.

Print is dying. It’s an expensive product to love. And general mangers, publishers and editors the world over must figure out a profitable way to get their news into readers’ heads.

What this class taught me is the intricacies of this problem.

1. My peers are interested in news, but they have no feelings whatsoever about where it comes from. You can be the greatest columnist in the world, but it will be tough to garner a strong following from millennials.

2. They want reporters to clearly state why a story matters to them. This is selfish, but it’s a good thing for reporters to understand in order to keep readers engaged for longer.

3. They don’t feel like picking up a newspaper. They’d rather scroll through their Twitter feed and get the day’s news from many different sources.

4. Local news is not dead. Rather, there’s a demand for hyper local news in real time, which is why Facebook pages like Overheard at UNC are incredibly popular. They’re a home for citizen journalists to curate and present content.

5. There is not a strong appreciation for opinion writing. My peers would rather be given the information and formulate an opinion on their own. They turn to their peers for help, not the local opinion editor.

As a caveat to that, the news industry’s efforts to keep opinion separate in the newsroom and in print is completely lost on readers close to my age. They don’t care if you have a special font that you only use for editorials. They can’t tell the difference. They don’t care if opinion is on the front page. That’s not how they organize the news in their mind.

But there are many questions we still don’t have answers to.

1. We didn’t come to a conclusion on the importance of accuracy. In our class discussions, people said they value it but then they also seemed to prioritize speed of delivery over everything else. And those two values aren’t always in sync.

It’s when journalists are tripping over each other to get a story out that everyone makes mistakes. And I’m not sure we fully unpacked that.

2. What triggers an international news cycle.

The tragedy of the Chapel Hill shooting was complex. But I don’t know if the overwhelming response to it came from the fact that three Muslim students in Chapel Hill were killed or from the fact that local media weren’t calling the killings a hate crime.

That distinction matters.

3. I still don’t know what the next big social network will be, but I’m confident one of my classmates will have a hand in developing it.

4. I still don’t know where this country will go with privacy. We put so much of ourselves out there on social media and I do worry that my peers don’t guard their personal details carefully enough.

This question really comes from the Ted Talk with Glen Greenwald we were required to watch earlier this semester:

Now, there’s a reason why privacy is so craved universally and instinctively. It isn’t just a reflexive movement like breathing air or drinking water. The reason is that when we’re in a state where we can be monitored, where we can be watched, our behavior changes dramatically … Human shame is a very powerful motivator,as is the desire to avoid it, and that’s the reason why people, when they’re in a state of being watched, make decisions not that are the byproduct of their own agency but that are about the expectations that others have of them or the mandates of societal orthodoxy.

5. And the big one. More than thirty of the journalism school’s best minds still couldn’t figure out a definitive way to make news profitable.

But this class sure did send me away with a lot of ideas for how to get there.

We unpacked so much and we were given the tools and the knowledge to tackle many other issues facing the journalism industry.

It was really a privilege to get to speak with some of the brightest minds from our field for a few hours each week.

And it’s kind of scary to think that I’ve spent the last year training for a job I’ll never have. But this is the first class I’ve taken that hasn’t made me feel terrified about that.

I feel empowered.


27 thoughts on “The job that I’ve spent the last year learning is not the one I’ll have

  1. Jenny,
    News is very important to me. But being 60 years young this year I can also see a five decade change in the Media if not the Message. He who controls the message has real power so today we masturbate the message into smaller and smaller hits trying to make them land on some Nero brain networks. In plain English.
    Hit me with the topic.
    Give me some small content.
    Let me decide if this topic is worth my valuable but worthless time.
    Then does this information fit into my network of beliefs, and social norm of my tribe.
    And lastly (and this is rare) do I actually do anything about this topic MYSELF ; >
    For the rest of your life and mine there will be messages. But the winners will be those who can float, flow and swim with the changing current on each new media canoe. The ride will always be most exciting for those who _______ the boat.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. I kind of get how you feel about training for a job you won’t be going into. I write fiction and I’ve taken several classes on the subject, but I can’t write full-time and there aren’t a lot of jobs out there where the majority of work done is writing of any sort. Still, it was worth pursuing your passion, right? You learned so much, you became so much better at your craft, and perhaps someday we’ll both be able to pursue what we love full time.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I did a writing course once. That’s when I realised that it’s the only course in the world where you don’t automatically qualify at the other end. Still, writing is a wide field and if you’re not going to be a novelist, you could be an opinion writer or a short story writer or even a journalist. In your case, if you’re not going to be a conventional type journo in print, you might find a niche somewhere online that suits you. There’s always something if you’re determined. Having said that, I don’t think that journalism is as honourable a profession as it once was. Today’s journalists self-censor and even when it’s not an opinion piece, many will shape their stories to suit theirs or their employer’s political leanings. Easy to do. Just be selective about the angle and what facts you bring in and what you leave out.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I’ve actually noticed that a lot of my friends are reading a lot more, just about less topics and from smaller sites. CNN, FNC, BBC stories are rarely posted but there is an endless supply of highly idealogical smaller outlets that are quite popular. It seams like NYT & friends are losing out because readers go to a variety of sites to read about one pet interest than going to one specific source for a variety of topics. Millenials read a ton, they just go to 10 sites that regurgitate their views on marriage instead of reading the 10 top stories from an outlet.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Hey Jenny,

    As a journalism graduate myself, I feel your pain. I still write and develop videos as a freelancer and as a day job, I work at a rental car company. I miss the days of student journalism and the simplicity of living in the student bubble. I will never stop working to build that lifestyle for myself again.

    I do have faith in our generation. I do have faith that we can make viable and lucrative careers for ourselves, we’ll just need a new business model; not that of the 1980’s. I think there is a new shift toward millennias actually realising, they need to pay, contribute to and support what they want. The Internet does cost money and so does creativity. We’re finally starting to get that it can’t all be good and free.

    We. Will. Get. There.

    Just don’t stop writing.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. Think of your learning tenure, of not becoming a journalist, but as an current events analyst who aims to write well with intent to note your information sources. This is will hold long into the future when later, people need ….EVIDENCE. We still have court cases and the legal system in every country, that demand/require identification of information sources…that just don’t disappear in twitter feed.

    Write well with the above in mind.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. I worked in govn’t and legal sector where my work as information service work was to support work of lawyers, investigators and judges.


  7. Reblogged this on pen and papers and commented:
    “Print is dying” <– it really hurts to read this awful truth. Yet for journalists and aspiring ones print media especially newspapers will always be the best training ground ever. 🙂
    Read her blog post! It's worth the time 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Reblogged this on Alex Conway Blog and commented:
    Editor-in-Chief of The Dialy Tar Heel (student newspaper for UNC-Chapel Hill) with some poignant words about the state of how we get our information.

    For me, it made me think about whether I even want to be a journalist in the way I wanted to be one when I was entering the paid education portion of my life.

    In some ways, I wish I could back and tell 18-year-old me that I don’t need to spend a fortune in student loans to get a degree in journalism. Especially since I’m not coming anywhere close to using my degree at the moment.

    Being a journalist these days isn’t what it was even 10 years ago when I graduated high school. I wonder if I knew how it would evolve if I would still choose the same career path and make the same decisions. It’s tough to think that way because going to college got me a lot more than a degree.

    It’s where I met my future wife and where I imagine a lot of college students “find” themselves. So in that respect, college always has value.

    But I think those choosing THIS career path, and to an extent, those in other majors, have to seriously consider the risk/reward of what they are choosing to study versus how successful they might be without a degree, because quite frankly, we live in a world where a degree itself isn’t enough to get you a job, it’s only enough to not get your resume thrown in the trash.

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Good luck to you, Jenny! I was excited to find your post on Freshly Pressed, as I am a fellow UNC (graduated in 2010) and Daily Tar Heel alum. The DTH was a great way for me to get my feet wet in journalism, as you also reference. It also taught me, however, that I really didn’t want to be a reporter and led me to my true calling as a copy editor, which is the job I have now. I’ll always be grateful to my time at the DTH and to the J-School, even if the future is very ambiguous for us journalism graduates.

    Liked by 3 people

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