Old School Learns A New Way
I was once asked, “What would 25-year- old Lew think about what current Lew is doing?” My answer: “I would have been appalled.” The business I’m in today looks nothing like it did when I was a brighteyed journalism student. Consumers want the news on their terms, not the way editors think best. Using social media, readers can be editors and reporters, too. New forms of ads have also altered the game. A few weeks ago I began a stint as a guest Skype instructor at the University of Iowa, my alma mater. Very little I was taught back then will be part of what I hope to teach a new generation of aspiring journalists.
Don’t get me wrong. For me the mission of journalism remains the same: to observe, collect, interpret and inform. In my classroom days so- called objectivity was drilled into you. Actually, there is no such thing in newsrooms. We all have biases, conscious or not. In fact, social media thrives on passion and authenticity, so long as it’s rooted in expertise. But that, as they say, is for another class.
My goal with U of I students will be to stress product development. News organizations must create things that audiences want to consume and pay for one way or another. I was taught that the story was the thing and that journalism was a higher calling. Journalists now must also understand it’s a business like any other.
My recommended readings ( The Filter Bubble, Writing on the Wall and The Master Switch) are meant to reinforce those points. So are certain lecture topics: When Newsrooms and Brand Journalism Collide; Technology and the Art of Journalism; and Church vs. State: When the Wall Comes Tumbling Down.
I returned to the U of I last February for the frst time in 40 years. As I strolled the campus I thought about a professor named Bill Zima, a crusty print pro who stuck by me as I struggled to fgure how to get the Five W’s— who, what, when, where and why—into the frst paragraph of a story. What students must grasp now is alien to them—and to many of their professors, too. Zima himself would be bafed, but he’d tell me to go report the story of change. I’ve been doing exactly that these past fve years. Now I’m teaching it, too.