By Naomi Klouda
Each year with spring comes the annual Alaska Press Club Conference, a three-day affair for attending workshops and meeting with other news people from around the state. Along with refresher courses on enterprising journalism, there’s new material to absorb. It brings a chance to make new friends and share talks with older editions of reporters who once worked with me on other newspapers around Alaska.
If I stay away too long, I forget so many faces and names. I need to stump across memory to match a face to a snap shot living in my head. I remember their blonde hair or their freckles. Discerning those features beneath the wrinkles and gray hair becomes a puzzle. I must strike others the same way.
In one case, I sat through an entire workshop led by a woman whose likeness nagged me the entire hour, then finally realized her name. Oh, how the years do change us all.
Given the tremendous changes in how news is gathered, thanks to technology and the Internet, the profession is indeed shrinking. What used to take a whole backshop of people to cut and paste pages now requires only one layout person sitting at a keyboard. An editor might never see the person who rolls the pages off the printing press since pages can be uploaded to them hundreds of miles away. I used to love to watch the press rolling off news pages, its mesmerizing steel arms folding print in organized segments. I miss those people that manned the line. I miss the backshop paste-up crew. I miss the companionship of taking a photographer along on assignment since reporters must now shoot their own photos.
It’s a lonely profession, now and ironic to feel lonely in an age that offers so much social interaction. I listened when my clock told me it’s time to go see who’s still out there working and what ideas are being discussed. I didn’t expect much beyond gaining a few new ideas and a chance to visit favorite people in the field. What I got was a whole lot more.
Nearly every workshop I attended was filled nearly to overflow with old and young alike. Our profession is being repopulated, replenished, rejuvenated by a new generation who like to talk and listen and grasp the news-gathering tools of the future. Those who stuck with it, tend to still have worthwhile advice and experience.
It was a comfort that they enjoyed listening. This realization was especially brought home in one workshop that involved what I thought young people might think of as a dinosaur species discussing a kind of reporting that might not survive as broadly in the future as it had in the past: investigative reporting. It was Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalist Lew Simons wearing tweed, speaking from an old-fashioned podium in a lecture hall. He dove into the Vietnam War as a correspondent and began a specialty in covering Asia. In 1986, a series he wrote in the Washington Post that exposed the corruption of the Ferdinand and Amelia Marco’s administration led to the People Power revolt that brought end to his stronghold.
Members of the mostly-young audience asked excellent questions that showed a knowledge and a most reassuring level of devotion to the span of journalism and its older tools.
Lewis talked about using his shoes to get the research done. He expressed distrust in Internet research since it doesn’t let reporters come face-to-face with sources and verify materials necessary, like receipts tracing money trails and putting data to a fact-check. Simons is worried. He wants news reporters to be physically close to their subjects and you can’t do that over the Internet. Without eye-to-eye contact, you can’t get inside a story the way you should, he said.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks has 55 journalism students, University of Alaska Anchorage has about 100, and many of them attended the conference. Just as the older journalists lent much to share, the young people also left much to ponder. Another workshop, social media news-gatherings, with Wall Street Journal’s Neal Mann, encouraged us to get involved in the dialogue on an international scale now possible. A person in Egypt can talk directly to us as never before. A problem in Cincinnati might match a conundrum in Homer, and we can know how they deal with it. It’s important to get to the ground swell of public sentiment in an age when media can give more input into the information pool than ever before, Mann said.
The people in that workshop held their blackberries and ipods, unremorseful of talking to invisible friends during the presentation.
This isn’t Benjamin Franklin’s world any more, of course. It’s not Woodward and Bernstein’s or Edward Murrow’s, or Walter Chronkite’s, or Anchorage’s Howard Weaver’s or Bob Atwood’s either.
I walked away feeling two sentiments: I am confident new, competent journalists are entering our profession. It’s not on the verge of extinction. And I felt proud of my colleagues. They outlasted the many changes that befell us to take part in this brave evolution.
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