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.