I Have Seen the Future of Journalism

… and it is surprisingly optimistic.

Just spoke at a high school journalism conference — 6,200 kids from around the country. There’s nothing like a Washington convention hotel filled to the rafters with bright, young, energetic, enthusiastic, having-the-time-of-their-lives 17 year olds. And this was a journalism conference?

I had to keep pinching myself. I’m thinking: what do they know that I don’t? What do they know that all the media pundits, corporate execs, Wall Street suits, and the moaning masses of working (and recently down-sized) journalists can no longer even imagine?

Based on the sheer tonnage of irrepressible perkiness I saw at the Wardman Marriott hotel this morning, I’d say that whatever problems journalism faces in the transition between a print world and a digital world will simply be swept away.

I told them about my first job in journalism, as a reporter at the Independent Florida Alligator – the Univeristy of Florida student paper. I knew even before college I wanted to be a writer. But I noticed something: I wasn’t actually writing anything. The only time I ever did was when I had a class assignment, and even then I couldn’t bring myself to do it until just before the deadline.

I had this realization while sitting on the side of a mountain on the island of Ibiza in Spain. It was toward the end of my junior year abroad program, and I had my journal with me, which I had barely written in. I was trying to write then, but it just wouldn’t come. So I was sitting there, all alone in this beautiful spot watching the waves of the Mediterranean beating on the red cliffs that jutted into the sea, and I thought: “What I need is a lot of deadlines.” Right then and there I decided that I would join the student newspaper.

When I got back to Gainesville, I found out where the office was and walked in unannounced. It was off an alley, a block off the main drag, in what used to be the kitchen of a greasy spoon restaurant. It appeared that nobody had even bothered to clean the place before the newspaper moved in, much less remodel. Directly above the news desk was an old stove hood, still thickly caked with black, toxic-looking grease. Beneath the hood was a guy with mustache and long brown hair who identified himself as the news editor.

“I’d like to write for the paper,” I said.

He asked if I had any experience.

“No,” I said.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said.

I asked him what did matter.

“Just show up,” he said.

And that’s been working for me ever since.

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