Future of journalism cloudy but still generates excitement

- Rem Rieder @remrieder

It’s a question I get all the time. It was particular­ly true when I was running a journalism magazine based at the University of Maryland’s J-school, but I hear it to this day: Why in the world would anyone want to go into journalism now?

There’s no doubt the field faces an enormous array of challenges. Legacy journalism institutio­ns, especially those in the newspaper business, have been battered by the advent of the digital age. Vitally needed advertisin­g revenue and circulatio­n continue to plummet. Newsroom staffs continue to shrink.

Yet at the same time, the digital world has brought with it exhilarati­ng opportunit­ies, a wide new array of ways to tell stories, a chance for intimacy with the audience unimaginab­le just years ago, an opportunit­y for real-time news delivery and instant response.

Not long ago I met Alysha Webb and Sasha Pezenik, newly minted graduates of the master’s program at Columbia Journalism School, at the Investigat­ive Reporters and Editors conference in New Orleans.

As we talked, their excitement over the prospect of plunging into a journalism career in the digital era was palpable. In telephone interviews, I asked them to elaborate on why they are so pumped. And they truly are.

“I don’t think there has ever been a more exciting time to be in journalism,” says Pezenik, 23, a native New Yorker.

What the Sarah Lawrence grad finds particular­ly stimulatin­g is combining new storytelli­ng tools with the intensity of the stories to be told. Pezenik is finishing up a documentar­y on New York City’s transgende­r community. She finds the transgende­r story par- ticularly compelling.

At the same time, the budding journalist­s are well aware of the massive headwinds buffeting their chosen field.

“This is obviously a very turbulent time in journalism,” Webb says. “The career path is unpromisin­g in some ways.”

But Webb, 26, whose passion is video, sees a huge upside. She likes the wide variety of story forms and senses more opportunit­y for young journalist­s to plunge right in.

“You have a lot more freedom to contribute,” she says. “It’s a great time for a creative personalit­y. There are different ways you can go in reporting stories. It’s a very collaborat­ive process. If you embrace it, it is very exciting.”

In the past, she feels, the field was much more constricte­d. Now, she likes the fact that she can grab her phone and shoot photos and video and conduct interviews.

And she senses much more acceptance of a new way of doing business.

Before, “there really wasn’t an openness to the new,” she says. Now, she says, news outlets must embrace it.

“You don’t really have a choice anymore,” she says. “You move forward or you fall behind.”

Webb, who grew up in Santa Rosa, Calif., graduated from the University of Oregon and worked as a Web assistant for and as an executive assistant at Hearst Digital Media before Columbia. Her next gig: digital video producer for a women’s publicatio­n based in New York.

In the future, she’d like to report on camera, whether that means via phone on social platforms or for a local TV station. And she plans to launch her own digital brand, which might be a blog or an aggregatio­n site.

Pezenik, who has written for and the West Side

Rag, loves the modern techniques, but she sounds decidedly old school when she talks about why she does what she does.

“I see myself telling truth to power,” she says. “I want my work to make a difference. I want to make people feel things with human stories.”

Her mission: “Global stories personally told.”

And she takes issue with the phrase “giving voice to the voiceless.” She says, “Our job is giving other people the mic.”

Pezenik has had some job feelers and plans to shop her documentar­y at film festivals.

“This is what I’m meant to be, talking to interestin­g people about interestin­g things,” she says.

Says Webb: “It’s a great, creative time for young minds with rich ideas.”

 ?? ALYSHA JEANETTE WEBB ?? “This is obviously a very turbulent time in journalism,” Alysha Webb says. “The career path is unpromisin­g in some ways.”
ALYSHA JEANETTE WEBB “This is obviously a very turbulent time in journalism,” Alysha Webb says. “The career path is unpromisin­g in some ways.”
 ??  ?? “I want my work to make a difference,” Sasha Pezenik says.
“I want my work to make a difference,” Sasha Pezenik says.
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