Future professional journalists honored at a difficult time

Mike KnaakColumn, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. Joseph0 Comments

When 500 of Minnesota’s small-town reporters, editors, advertising sales people and publishers gathered for the annual Minnesota Newspaper Association Convention in Bloomington in late January, they began their awards program by focusing on the future of journalism.

The awards program did not start with announcing the awards from the more than 4,100 entries in the annual Better Newspaper Contest, but by recognizing college journalists for top work in 21 categories.

In the same month as more than 2,100 journalists lost their jobs as cuts continued at newspapers and news websites across the nation, it would be a fair question to ask why anyone would plan a career in journalism.

Journalism has never been a top-paying profession. Journalists could fetch a higher paycheck offering their talents to business or government and be rewarded with more job stability and better hours. But like other professions, such as teaching or law enforcement, journalists are happy to earn decent, but not enriching money, to do a job for which they have a passion and that serves a higher purpose than a paycheck.

The young journalists’ award-winning entries showed off their talents as well as their passion for storytelling.

I was especially proud of two winners from St. Cloud State University – Jessie Wade and Maddie MacFarlane. The two women won awards for their photo work. They were students in a photojournalism class I taught at SCSU.

The job crisis in journalism is not the result of a lack or demand for news. On the contrary, with print as well as digital platforms publishing the news, the audience is larger than ever.

People are consuming more news, but publishers have not yet figured out a profitable business model for the digital world.

Traditionally, advertising covered about three-fourths of a newspaper’s budget with the rest coming from subscriptions. Advertisers paid to put their products and services in front of the eyeballs who came to read the news.

With online news, all that changed. Print advertising dollars turned to dimes and nickels on the web. Readers who were willing to pay for paper tossed on their doorstep balked at online subscriptions for news they expected to read for free.

Of course, online news isn’t free to the reader. You pay for internet access, your $1,000 iPhone and you put up with advertising on Google where you “find” your news. Google makes billions on advertising while the publishers who provide those stories people eagerly find get zilch from Google.

More and more communities are becoming news deserts where the local paper has either shut down or drastically reduced staff.

The big national papers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, are doing well thanks to digital subscriptions from the entire nation.

There are working journalists — skilled, experienced, dedicated reporters, editors, photographers — who are doing their best to serve you, while a beleaguered news industry tries to find a path to a sustainable future.

They are the only people who are watching city hall, examining how your tax dollars are spent and how your children are being educated.

Will those talented college journalists be able to attend an MNA dinner 40 years from now to accept another award for their work?

Author: Mike Knaak

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