Monday, October 25, 2010

It Doesn't Matter What You Major In...

...You're still going to have a tough time starting your career.

NPR recently posted an interesting article that struck pretty close to home. The writer, David Folkenflik, looks into the viability of majoring in Journalism. It's an industry that many seem to believe is dying. They see the sad disappearance of papers like The Seattle P.I. and the shrinking audiences of cable news shows as indicators that all is lost. They believe the the press has no chance of serving the Fourth Estate watchdog tradition. These people are wrong. They're wrong because they fail to recognize that the old business models can't work online. They are wrong because their idea of how the industry should work is colored by how they think it did work.

To really explain just when these critics started being wrong, I would have to resurrect the decade old story of how the World Wide Web "shifted paradigms" and "synergized" things. Nobody wants to read that, and I can't bear to write it. Even if it is true. Instead, lets look at where those abandoned newspaper readers and cable audiences are going for their information.

Facebook and Twitter are two obvious destinations. Facebook, while originally conceived as a better version of dead/dying Myspace, has grown into a viable media platform. Users can form groups, follow public figures, and comment on events and news stories. Pretty much every organization has a presence here. Facebook will eventually collapse under its own weight, as it's legal department restricts usability, it's marketing department repeatedly violates users privacy, and it's centralized and censorial nature finally catches up with it. I blame MBA majors for this.

I'm not wrong, and you know it.

Twitter does the information sharing bit better, and so far without being a nuisance. And it's remarkably simple, apparently not censorial (Remember The Green Revolution in Iran?), and so far hasn't sabotaged it's own usability to give itself more ad space and page views.

Then there are Social News sites, like Reddit, and Digg. Digg has already experienced the same type of self immolation Facebook eventually will. Watch it crumble! These sites are hybrids of Facebook's usability and community interaction, and Twitter's link sharing capacity. Reddit is better, but it's learning curb and sanctimonious community probably keeps it from having truly wide appeal.

On top of that, people now use Google reader and Google alerts to find out every time a blogger or journalist they trust publishes something online. It works, and it works really well. All of these new models are popular, and growing their user base.

The next Time Warner, or News Corp, is going to be whoever figures out a way to monetize this new diaspora of writers, reporters, bloggers, analysts, and journalists. I'm betting on Google.

Journalism, both the reporting part and the dissemination part, are changing. The world is changing. Critics like to pretend change and death are the same thing. Like some of the dunces in that NPR report.

A journalism program succeeds in 2010 when it gives it's students the capacity for critical thought, organization skills, and the ability to adapt to changing platforms.

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