Yesterday’s future, today’s present. (via inju,Flickr)
Imagine you were in the middle of the nineteen-nineties: Kurt Cobain had just died, cell-phone resembled more to phone boxes than to an iPhone, and the visible internet was a place where nerds were flaming each other on usenet.
Imagine it was the time you graduated from J-school, full of aspiration to work for the New York Times, the FAZ, name any highbrow-medium you can think of. Imagine how the next few years went, how you watched the internet emerge and slowly kill the industry and rapidly change the profession whose foundation seemed unchangeable like that of clergymen or physicians.
Imagine you now, only 15 years later. In your early 40s, at a time where careers speed up to the top, you see your industry collapse. You find yourself having to adjust to the new setting just after becoming excellent in your profession. Wouldn’t you secretly envy the generation that grew up in the internet-age?
Integration is revolution
To me, the biggest challenge facing journalists under 30 is realizing how blessed we are. Because we do not have to “study“ the internet and its consequences. We know about it. The waters are rough, but at least we know we can swim.
If you have made it to the TNTJ-blog, you probably know the possibilities. But you have to repeat them again and again to see the opportunities: Not only can we be read, watched and heard by people we had never dreamed of reaching, we are also able to communicate with “the people formerly known as the audience“. Don’t you think the first journalists would have given their life to get to know their readers and engage in discussions with them?
Journalism has always been about citizenship, and if we take citizenship seriously, we accept and praise the fact it needs skills, not diplomas to commit acts of journalism. Or, to quote the Guardian’s Roy Greenslade:
“When we journalists talk about integration we generally mean, integrating print and online activities. But the true integration comes online itself. The integration between journalists and citizens.“
If you look at the goals of journalism, this integration would be self-evident; in the situation the media currently are, it is nothing less than a revolution. I would love to tell you that if we all speak up and demand from colleagues and publishers to accept the role of journalists as one voice, one citoyen among equals, everything will be fine. But it won’t: Huge parts of the industry have become inflexible, which means not only the often quoted curmudgeons will have to fight for survival – some of us will not be able to maintain a career as a professional journalist.
The innovator’s mindset
But even as the online-industry still lacks a coherent business-model, there is always a possibility to triumph over rough waters if you can swim: Pro Publica and Spot.us (sorry, Dave, for dragging you into the spotlight again) are just two examples of testing the waves. More will follow soon, and it can come from you, me, anyone.
This brings us back to the first paragraph: It is easier to define roles than to re-define them after you have been doing something for years and decades. To quote Jeff Jarvis:
“Journalists have to be entrepreneurs [blogger’s note: !!!!!]. Teachers. Students. Helpers. Enablers. Networkers. Filters. Partners. Community members. Citizens.“
And, I add, we have to be inventors, because we have the chance and duty to re-invent journalism. But all great inventors have one thing in common: They saw big challenges as even bigger opportunities. Let’s adjust our mindset and embrace changes as chances. If we do so, anything is possible.