Journalism isn't sexy anymore. That's the concern I hear from many when contemplating the future of this crucial profession. Veteran reporter and editor Bob Collins wrote about this problem in a 2012 News Cut piece for Minnesota Public Radio.
Collins remembered a time when aspiring young journalists flooded NPR World Headquarters, eager to explore a career in news, and he contrasted this to reporter Trisha Marczak's experience going to a high school career fair and finding not a single student interested in her work.
"I at least expected to meet one eager, young student with their eyes set on changing the world through their pen (that’s how I felt at that age)," Marczak writes. "Don’t these students watch movies? You have to admit; reporters are a movie character favorite. They may not always be small town editors, but you get the idea. Throughout the day, when explaining to students what I do, exactly, I also began to ask whether any of their schools had student-run newspapers. Not one."
And this, I believe, is the problem. How do students get interested in careers? Exposure.
When I started the journalism program at my school. it had been years since we'd had more than a club, and I had a hard time drumming up interest for a class. That first year, 18 students were enrolled in my intro to journalism class, and almost none of them had signed up for it. It was a fluke of the schedule that I got as many as I did, and they were not particularly excited to be there.
Now, almost five years later, I have more students interested than can take the class, and that has little to do with me. What makes a teenager use all caps and three exclamation marks about an interview with the mayor (or "NOT NECESSARILY THE MAYOR PROBABLY SOMEONE FROM HIS OFFICE BUT STILL") about local election voter turnout, a topic more likely to induce snores than enthusiasm? Engagement.
If we want young people to understand the importance of journalism, news literacy is a critical part of the equation. If we want them to get really excited about journalism, though, we need to let them experience it. Only then will the professionals see more eager young journalists flooding their halls and dreaming of changing the world through their pens.
“And though she be but little, she is fierce!” -A Midsummer Night’s Dream