The journey of a journalist

Posted on September 22, 2010 by Janet Coats

My daughter’s sixth-grade English class is studying journalism this quarter. I stood in her classroom at open house on Tuesday night and saw the bulletin board her teacher had prepared on the subject: “The journey of a journalist: What power do words have?’’

Something about seeing those words in construction-paper letters on a middle school wall brought all of the feelings I had when I was headed off to journalism school. Like most journalists, I was drawn to the craft by my love of language and my desire to write. The idea that my daughter’s English teacher was focusing her lessons on the power of words was downright heady.

But as the evening wore on, it was the first part of that bulletin-board slogan that started to percolate in my brain. “The journey of a journalist.’’  I mentioned it over dinner with another journalist, and we both laughed. The journey of a journalist these days, we commiserated, is all too often to the unemployment line.

Even as we made the easy joke, I knew that I wasn’t really that cynical about the future of journalists and journalism.

Sure, journalism as practiced in traditional newsrooms has had a rough few years. I had a front-row seat to just how hard those years were, and the very real human toll the layoffs and cost-cutting exacted.

But I am deeply optimistic about the journey journalists are on. This is a time of amazing innovation, of forging new connections with community and opening new paths for storytelling.

It is also a time that offers unparalleled opportunities for journalists to share what they are learning with each other. It is a time when we can move past the old rules, the ways we competed with each other, and focus instead on learning from each other.

This week, I’m headed to Chicago to attend Block by Block, a gathering of leading pioneers of online local news sites. I’ve had a role in planning the program for Block by Block, which springs from the work done by Michele McLellan during her 2009-2010 fellowship at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

As we’ve worked to put together the program, Michele and I have occasionally paused to marvel at the response to the event. Block by Block registration reached capacity several weeks ago. The hunger of these journalism entrepreneurs to connect and share both their successes and frustrations is powerful.

As someone who has spent her career in traditional newsrooms before this year, I’m excited about the chance to hear from these innovators. They are charting journalism’s future every day, working to keep their communities informed and connected. That truly is the journey of a journalist, and it is a journey worth documenting so that we can all learn from it.

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