After touring the offices of The Gazette and KCRG Tuesday, one student in my Introduction to Journalism class vowed that she would never become a journalist. The hours and pay didn’t seem attractive to her.
Well, that’s OK. She’s a young mother, and making that kind of decision based on the kind of life balance she seeks isn’t wrong, in my opinion. As for me, I miss the madcap world of daily newspaper journalism any time I get to tour a newspaper office, so I had the opposite reaction–I envied those still caught up in that world.
Zack Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette, kindly led our tour. We saw the combined KCRG and Gazette newsroom, and the sports and circulation areas upstairs.
Then, we entered the room that impressed the student’s the most—the KCRG studio. It’s interesting to see and hear how students react when some of them see an actual TV studio for the first time—I think the main shock is how small it is compared to what it appears to be on TV. You forget that when you point a camera at something, the camera only sees a narrow rectangle right in front of itself—it doesn’t see the tangle of cords, the robot cameras, the grid holding lights, the cement floor, etc. As one experienced student observed Thursday when the class debriefed on the tour—“that’s pretty much the way they all look.”
Anyway, fun as the tour was, I think the conversation after the tour—when Kucharski; Diana Nollen, arts and entertainment writer; and Jennifer Hemmingsen, opinion page editor, took time to speak with students in a conference room—was even more entertaining.
They summed up their experiences briefly. I liked Hemmingsen’s description of her first post-college journalism job working for a 6,000-circulation daily newspaper as her “drinking from the fire hose” experience. I worked for a small daily newspaper, too—it is indeed an intense first step.
She also said, and I agree, that despite all of the shakeups in the media world to date, there is still a vital role for the watchdog in our society. As Hemmingsen noted, people are so bombarded by instant information and misinformation that a journalist’s role in uncovering and telling the truth takes on new relevance. “That essential craft is more important than ever,” she said.
Kucharski went on to note that journalists are starting to learn some key lessons in the digital age. Early in the internet era, the new 24/7 internet news cycle put so much pressure to get the information online first that lots of mistakes have been made, even by credible news organizations.
That’s starting to change, he said, as journalists re-discover what they already knew—it’s more important to be right than to be first.
“Competition is a really dumb reason to make mistakes,” he noted.
Amen to that. As a professor, I see how hard it is for students who are in communication fields to learn the basic news gathering skills in the first place. To know what you know, and to take care to verify facts before passing them on, is not easy. And getting there first if you get it all wrong is not much of an accomplishment.
While one student may have been turned away from journalism, I don’t count that as a bad outcome. It’s important that students make clearheaded choices about what they want to do, and if you don’t feel the missionary zeal, than the life of a journalist is not for you. And the student I’m writing about is a PR major anyway; I don’t want to leave the impression that the Gazette turned off a budding new talent—her reaction against journalism as a career was more along the lines of affirming a choice she had already made, not changing a path she was on.
And not all students reacted that way. Most seemed to think it was really cool to see the inside of The Gazette. And I had one student speak to me briefly after class today. This student wants to add “News Processing,” a four-hour class that he would take as an elective, to his schedule next year.
Something has inspired him to learn more about journalism. Maybe it was partly the whole Gazette tour experience.
So, for me and my students, visiting the Gazette and KCRG was great fun. The Gazette is a smaller place now that it has relocated out of its older building into what once was just KCRG. But it’s still a vibrant hub of activity, an important place in the Cedar Rapids community, and it provides a vital democracy-building role.
So thanks Gazette and Zack and Jennifer and Diana. We had a great time. I hope to see y’all again soon. And y’all are invited to our fall faculty Vietnam War series of events at Mount Mercy University!