The rumors of the death of journalism have been highly exaggerated.
That much was clear from the workshops I attended Friday and Saturday, April 25-26, for the regional chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists, held at BU. New forms, new approaches and, most of all, new blood in the form of enthusiastic journalism students infused the conference. I left feeling better about the future of newsgathering and publishing.
While Regis MAPW is not a journalism program, per se, the tenets of basic journalism – clear writing, fairness, spark – serves writers of all stripes. I found the workshops I attended very helpful – even when I had some disagreements with the positions by the presenters. Nothing stimulates me more than a good heated discussion! Ethan Zuckerman, director of MIT’s Center for Civic Media talked about how journalists can be more activist… not necessary by taking a political stance but by researching and presenting possible solutions to the issues they cover. Another workshop, on specialized journalism, underscored what we are doing in the MAPW , that is, helping writers get basic skills and then exposing them to specialized writing – in business, health, science and technology. I intend to reach out to the moderator, Philip J. Hilts, director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, who made some excellent points. (Fair warning to Dr. Hilts.)
Kevin Z. Smith, SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman did a great job with a workshop on Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age. Great, because other participants (including me) continued to interrupt him with questions and comments. Nothing like a good serving of journalistic ethics to wind up a conference. Using graphic photos (in some cases) Smith pushed the group to consider what they would “publish” on Twitter or online or in print. Are standards different?
A glorious interlude was provided by a performance by the Boston Typewriter Orchestra, a paean to old technology. Is there a more evocative sound than the rattle of old machines? I don’t miss those days, actually, but this orchestra shows just how creative you can be. I recommend their a riff on a classic: “The Future Will Be Typewritten,” with spoken bits that rapped about the foibles of the computer keyboard.
See a snippet of the performance here, shot with my phone.
The two keynote speakers, Carole Simpson, former ABC News Anchor, professor at Emerson University, and Robin Young, host of NPR’s Here & Now, tackles similar themes. Both emphasized the personal battles they fought to establish themselves as professionals in a hitherto white man’s business. The audience was quite mixed, male and female, and I wondered how the “you go, girl” theme resonated with the guys. To me, it it appears that flames of past hurts seem to burn hot still, even in two successful women with nothing left to prove.
The take-away point for all sexes and ages: “Believe in yourself.” A tired phrase, to be sure, but there’s something to be said for sticking to your own vision. You don’t always succeed. In fact, I would argue that you fail more than you succeed and there’s no guarantee you will win in the end. Yet, if you hone your vision and realize that there are multiple paths to lead you there, then follow the twists and turns and keep going.