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Letting the young’ns have our say

I read this post, Brain Drain, (via: Melissa Worden) and couldn’t resist throwing my own 2 cents into the conversation.

One of the passages in his post that really struck me was this: (emphasis mine)

He summed up the frustration of the twenty- and thirty-something professionals who grew up with a keyboard at their fingertips and an iPod, or at least a Walkman, plugged in their ears. They use modern media the way their generation does, not the way their fifty-something bosses wish they would.

But the young net natives, for the most part, rank too low in the organizations that employ them to be invited to the pivotal discussions determining the strategic initiatives that could help their employers sustain their franchises.

I have to admit, I have sat in on more than one conversation where people discussed an idea that there is no way in hell would float with my peers. How do I know? Because like those peers, *I* am attached to my iPod, digital camera and cell phone on a 24/7 basis. (OK except in the shower or bed, but within reach of both should the need to text a friend or hear my favorite song strike me.) *I* am more comfortable going without food than the Internet, because I know skipping a meal won’t kill me, missing up-to-the-date information seems like it might. *I* barely remember a time before Google was a verb and IM was an acceptable form of conversation even with my parents. *I* have never subscribed to a print newspaper or paid for cable news, and yet *I* am never the last to know, because I have breaking news and Google alerts, RSS feeds, Twitter and Facebook newsfeed, among other things, keeping me in the loop both with what’s happening across the globe and also among my closest buds.

But here’s the thing: *I* was invited to those conversations.

I remember earlier this year when my M.E. came up to me and said he had an “opportunity” for me. Two things to note about this: First, the way he phrased it sounded like “opportunity” meant “more work.” Second, I had only been here about four months, and you can’t really tell your boss no. Right?

Luckily, it did turn out to be a great opportunity. He invited me, yes, me, the girl who six months earlier hadn’t yet earned a college diploma, to be part of the new product development group. Not only did it expose me to people working in other departments in the building, people I would never have encountered in my reporting role, but it also exposed me to the types of new products and audiences we’re working to develop. And knowing we’re actually being proactive makes me feel better about this company.

But more important — and I knew within 10 minutes of attending my first meeting — was why I was tapped for that “opportunity.” It was precisely because of my age and because I was quite literally the freshest college graduate employed there. They WANTED that voice at the table. And though I by no means claim to represent an entire generation of professional individuals, I could at least attest to my own Gen-Y experiences.

So far we’ve gotten a few products off the ground, none I’ve worked closely on — except the high school micro-site which wasn’t through NPD — but some I’ve gotten to bounce feedback and ideas into. More are on their way. And more important, some things that sounded like a good idea but wouldn’t stand a chance were left on the cutting room floor after I reasoned with them.

That said, this isn’t a fairy tale I’m living. And for the successes I’ve watched, I’ve also seen and been disappointed. I’ve seen our own best intentions get in the way of what could be really cool. And no specifics, but I will say I’m still not happy that my own Web skills are so underutilized on a day-to-day basis. It’s probably my biggest complaint about the job I otherwise love.

I’ve often caught myself longing to do more online but for lack of time and resources, what can I do? I pitched the idea of an education blog after reading Mindy’s post about staff journalists blogging. I love the idea of getting more community conversation going with the parents and schools and to hit on some national stories I’ll never write about but would love to get people discussing as well as some of those fall-through-the-crack things that don’t really fit anywhere else. Albeit I didn’t press too hard, the response was basically that I have more than enough on my plate already, which to be fair is definitely true. But it begs the question, are the right things on the right plate?

Which goes back to the original point of the article. Is the best use of my talents at this point as a reporter covering school assemblies and school board meetings with a few in-depth enterprise packages thrown in each week? Or am I squandering — or allowing to be squandered — the best years of my life, when I really should be able to experiment, take chances and occasionally even screw up, just because I have to pay my dues to get to the point where I can do those things?

I don’t have an answer for this. I feel silly every time someone looks to me for my opinion about the future of an idea. Because all I have at this point is an opinion based solely on my own life’s media interactions and my, as yet, limited journalism experience. All I have are my gut instincts and observations.

I am fortunate to be at a place where the editors do respect my ideas, and where my M.E. tolerates an awful lot of me complaining about problems with RSS feeds or quirks I noticed on the Web site. But I sometimes feel like, especially in my current position, I’m really just along for the ride at this point. Catching the waves as they come and trying to figure out how it all works when nobody else knows to teach me. I get the impression that’s how everyone feels right now. And those same people looking for my opinions, are also watching the way I crest the waves for tips of their own. That’s both exciting and scary, which I guess are the two words that best sum up the state of this industry right now.

11 Responses to “Letting the young’ns have our say”

  1. Teaching Online Journalism » We need a tourniquet Says:

    [...] Showing a wonderful knack for walking a thin line between cheerful acceptance and justified complaining, Meranda Watling tells us what it’s like to be the youngest reporter in the newsroom: [...]

  2. Sean Blanda Says:

    -Got to your post via Mindy-

    I have to say that this was one of those rare blog posts that made me want to give you a standing ovation. While I cant pretend to know what its like to *really* work in a newsroom as a permanent job, I have had internships where the above scenario played out exactly.

    And I mean exactly. I think the problem is mostly organizational. Its hard to change when you have been doing things for X years. Its even harder when it has to go through 5 layers of managers, editors, and gog knows what else.

    Get up the good work! Subscribed.

  3. Sean Blanda Says:

    err.. thats “keep” up the good work

  4. Anon Says:

    Posting anonymous for obvious reasons. I read your post through Mindy’s blog and I have to agree with you 100 percent.

    I worked in a newsroom for almost five years and from day 1 I tried to get some better Web stuff going. In five years, the Web site improved, yes, and they launched a podcast and a few blogs.

    But the podcast folded when one of the tech gurus left and nobody stepped forward to continue the podcast and they didn’t want to hire someone to continue the podcast.

    Still no RSS feed. One poor guy is doing the whole Web site. When will they get a clue? Granted this was a smallish paper. I loved working there but sometimes my head met the desk from the clueless attitude when it came to technology.

    Now I am at a different paper (because of a family move, not because I wanted to leave). I feel like I am at square one. Same issues. No RSS feed. No blogs. No audio for crying out loud! I wanted to do a story with audio and a slideshow and I’m told I have to wait until DECEMBER before the Web guy will add the enabling software. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is (but you can probably understand).

  5. Ryan Sholin Says:

    @Anon – A solution: Become the ‘web guy.’ Or better yet, help him out. Record the audio, get the photos together, and use iMovie or Windows Movie Maker to cut together an ‘audio slideshow’ in the form of a video file. Sign up for a YouTube account and post it. include a link in your story, and you’re off and running.

    The ‘web guy’ is always going to be overworked and buried in requests, until the paper hires more ‘web guys’ or the company that owns the paper makes the Web a high enough priority that it forces re-organization on the paper.

    Having been the ‘web guy,’ I speak from experience.

  6. Meranda Says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. It sounds like things could be a lot worse for me. In fact, I knew all along I have a pretty good thing going here. I really can’t complain. I just need to put my head down and keep plugging and hoping I do get some of those opportunities I’m longing for and that my feedback does make a difference, as I hope it will. I’m not the type to become disillusioned. I’m too much of an optimist, and as I pointed out in my reply to Mindy’s post:

    The fortunate thing is unlike many of the comments on the Newsosaur and even my post, I’m not at a paper where simply copying and pasting is good enough. They are pushing for more online in various realms. I’m just not getting to be as big a part of it as I’d like. And that is what frustrates me because that’s where my interests lie.

    The thing I also realize, and don’t think I made the point clearly in my post, is that I don’t blame my company or bosses. I feel I am responsible for my own destiny. The reality is, I am doing what I was hired to do. So in light of the fact that I now know I need to prove to my editor I can clear my plate and leave room for dessert (the blog, video, etc.), I’m just going to have to work harder to make that known.

    I guess, what it boils down to is I’m scared of being left behind. I’m scared of all the opportunities every one else is getting and I’m not. (Though perhaps from all the comments, there are far fewer people getting these chances than I imagine, which makes it all the more imperative.)

    I want to try new ideas. And if I fail, so what? I’m 22. I’m going to fail a lot in my life. And if our papers fail at a new venture? Well, what is there to lose that isn’t already being lost? As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” I’m just not sure how to get them to let me try. From all the comments here and elsewhere, that is really the problem everyone is facing. We all want to try, but how? I’m working on that. And I don’t think we afford for any of my peers (in age or in mindset) to give up on finding a way. I know I won’t be any time soon.

  7. patrickbeeson.com Says:

    ‘Brain drain’ greatest threat to newspapers

    This entry comments on Alan Mutter’s blog entry titled “Brain Drain,” and provides my perspective about how newspapers aren’t taking advantage of young, technologically savvy employees who are leaving the industry for other jobs.

  8. Meranda Writes » Blog Archive » An education tumblelog? Says:

    [...] I’ve been thinking for several weeks about how I would like to create an education blog to complement my beat coverage and stories. But, as I mentioned in a previous post, it was kind of shot down for my perceived lack of time to keep it. Enter the tumble log. [...]

  9. Zac Echola Says:

    Meranda (and everyone who feels like they’re in Meranda’s shoes);

    Just do it.

    If you have time to clear your plate of regular journalism work to also work on a blog, or get video, or cut audio, or whatever: just do it. Find a free web host for your content (like youtube) and give the link to your ‘Web guy.’ He knows what to do with it.

    Don’t bother asking permission. It is easier to ask forgiveness.

    I know exactly where you are coming from. If you want to see change in your organization, you have to be that change. And teach others along the way.

    It’s slow and it’s painful. But organizational change always is. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’m still there. Don’t let the organization of your job keep you from doing the best job you can do. Ever. It’s simply not worth it.

    Other ways to spend your time:

    Encourage your sources to write blogs and link to them from your stories.
    Drop the pad and paper for an audio recorder. It’s a bit of a shift for some, but what was once purely record keeping now duals as multimedia opportunity.
    Get documents in PDF form where you can.
    Know how your sources manage spreadsheets, and ask for that data.

    Good luck!

  10. Why Journalism students need to be selfish » SeanBlanda.com Says:

    [...] There as been a lot of buzz around the media-journo-blogosphere lately about the demands placed on young journalists. As someone who is graduating (hopefully) in May, allow me to give an idea of my “strategy” for the upcoming job search: be selfish. [...]

  11. Young journalists are important to their papers | ShutterScape Says:

    [...] I just got finished reading a great post by Miranda Watling on her blog Miranda Writes. Miranda is young journalist in a newsroom much like any in the country. Her paper has taken note of multimedia story telling in a big way. But what’s important to note is her satisfaction that she is part of the process of ideas, and finds happiness by simply being asked to participate the staff meetings usually only attended by senior staff. [...]