Such was the topic at a TEDx seminar, “Finding the Future of Journalism” held at the Poynter Institute last week where journalism heavyweights flew in to St. Petersburg, FL to discuss and deliberate the issue.
For the uninitiated, the Poynter Institute was founded in 1975 by Nelson Poynter, former owner and manager of the St. Petersburg Times. Along with a handful of organizations worldwide, the Poynter Institute today stands at the pinnacle of journalistic thought, leadership and practice.
Poynter’s conference launched with a Social Media One Night Stand on the eve of the TEDx conference. Sree Sreenivasan, Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia Journalism School, educated attendees with over 20 tips utilizing Twitter as a powerful social media tool by demonstrating ways to capture and capitalize on human attention in the digital space.
The following day’s roster included additional notables like Bill Adair, creator of PolitiFact; David Carr, New York Times Media Columnist & Reporter; and Burt Herman, co-creator of Storify, a platform for creating stories with social media.
For those who still consider traditional newspapers the sacrosanct bastion of news reporting, this TEDx conference was wildly futuristic. But for think tank leaders at Poynter braving economic changes amidst a digital tsunami that has turned everyone and anyone into a potential reporter through blogs, Twitter and even Facebook, this conference could not have been more important.
Faced with dwindling newspaper industry figures like a 50% drop in revenues and a 30% drop in employment, Poynter remains actively engaged in redefining how-and by whom-stories aimed at public consumption are collected, generated, and disseminated.
You might wonder, who cares? Yet not since Thomas Jefferson coined the press as the “Fourth Estate”, a necessary component keeping the nation’s judicial, legislative and executive branches open to public inspection and scrutiny, has this uniquely American equation been so rocked.
I had previously attended Poynter conferences where formerly ensconced members of the journalistic community bemoaned the shock and awe of loss. Minds have since yielded to digital realities, and this TEDx conference was part of the process in coming to terms with an American industry paradigm shift.
Despite my age and recollections of the three network news anchors who graced American TV at night or my remembrance of the NY Times, Boston Globe and other institutional papers declaring their way of seeing the world, I find myself equally part of a new breed.
Neither trained in journalism nor boasting a career in media, I’m a woman whose child-rearing days are behind me. I couldn’t bear returning to a corporate position that no longer existed. Neither was I anxious to throw myself full-time into a computer company my husband and I developed from scratch.
Despite being in my 50s, I’ve stepped in as one of the new-kids-on-the-newspaper-block. With sufficient experience behind me, I’ve entered into the conversation of life to make my own mark on the culture.
Suddenly, and with good fortune, the decline of an old journalistic order has created new room for a mature voice like mine. In a previous decade, my late-entry stories would have been barred by a tightly-knit, established guard.
Yet because of the wide-open spaces in today’s digital landscape, my voice can now claim a venue all its own. As publisher of best-selling children’s books, a writer and video personality promoting life-transformative ideas and, most recently, as emerging talk radio co-host, I’m the public image of a middle-aged woman who’s creating a new future for herself – this time, in the news.
Oddly, what others my age consider loss of an industry is now totally open to my gain. Certainly, I’m one voice among millions. Yet the current platforms of digital and social media liberate me to tell stories my way. I am free to pursue my own outlets and to find my own audience.
I now blog on my personally designed website as easily as I export articles to specialty aggregators and a digital news outlet. With the ability to incorporate my artwork, I design, curate and distribute a worldview birthed out of decades of personal experience, extensive world travel, and the realities of pursuing a new career when others are thinking of winding down.
Who exactly is my audience? Apparently, it’s people who desire more out of life. Like me, they want to experience life at greater levels and they’re willing to test new boundaries to get there.
My stories may attract few or many but they inspire and impact certain sectors of the culture. Which is exactly what I am happy doing: telling my stories so people will be inspired to live out their own.