The Debut

This blogging business is all new to me. But then so much in my life now is all new, as well. New house, new town, new job. That’s why this effort at an Internet journal could be intriguing. Certainly, it will be novel.

In August, I left the world of working journalism for the world of the academy. After 22 years at BUSINESS WEEK and 13 years at other pubs, I put in my last day as a paid reporter — as chief of correspondents for that wonderful pub in the end — and joined the University of Nebraska as an associate professor. As I left Chicago for Lincoln, I took up the art of teaching journalism to fresh-faced undergrads. I did so all too well aware that my field is undergoing some of its most wrenching change ever.

I’ve learned a lot in just one semester already. For one thing, I’ve come to take a longer view, as academics are supposed to. That means seeing that change is actually the norm in journalism. All the Internet-driven and recession-pained ferment of late seems to many to be something terribly new (and terrible, in fact). And yet, newspapers and magazines have been rising and falling for decades, if one takes in the long sweep.

Evidence of that? Time was, not so long ago, when cities such as NYC and Chicago had a half-dozen dailies ferociously competing for readers. Along came radio and TV, and the numbers shrank. As for magazines, remember Look and Life? They soared and flamed out, like so many other pubs. Journalism, in fact, has been a field in tumult ever since print was put on paper and sounds and pictures thrust into the air.

Now, does the Internet change things even more? Well, it certainly accelerates change. I can’t recall a more unsettling year in the history of newspapers as this past one, for instance. So many gone. The change is certainly horrendous for people thrown out of work, as over 100 of my colleagues at BW were when Bloomberg bought the magazine a few weeks ago.

But, taking the long view, what the Net has wrought is not unprecedented. To cast things in a personal light, of the four media organizations I worked for since my college days, two were sold and continue to publish — The Home News in New Brunswick, N.J., now a Gannett newspaper, and BW. Two others died — Dun’s Business Month, which perished years ago, long before the Net, and, as of this year, the Rocky Mountain News. I personally have seen both Net-induced ruin and change that has nothing to do with the medium.

The Net seems to be doing for media (and information generally) what the printing press did when it debuted. Does the term “sea-change” get at it a bit? And yet, Gutenberg opened vast new opportunities. So, too, will the Net.

Over their careers, my students will be writing for both new and old media. My job now is to prepare them for that world, an already-fascinating realm and one that is rich in creativity. Over time, I believe, this world will prove at least as lucrative as print journalism was (never so much as other fields, but not bad. The compensation has always been such intangibles as access to all tiers of society and a heck of a lot of fun, adventure and, for some, even danger. The latter prospect is the kind of thing that gets a young person’s juices going; strange thing, isn’t it?)

So my purpose in this blog is to chart the changes I see. Along the way, I will share stories from my new life as an academic. For an ink-stained wretch, the world of leather elbow pads and chalkboards is wholly new and intriguing. (Actually, it’s more like a realm of rumpled sweaters, computer-aided visual displays with overhead projectors, and whiteboards). I aim to share this new world with whoever out there may stumble upon this space.

I hope this effort proves as entertaining and informative to readers as I expect it will prove to me.

JW

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