Journalism’s revolution

A friend, the editor of a small daily newspaper here in Illinois, asked me (Jim) a tough question this week: What I would I tell a high-school senior who wonders if there’s a career anymore in being a reporter?

Actually, I’ve had that conversation many times, both in my previous career as a college newspaper adviser and now as a missionary journalist. The short answer: Certainly there is, but it probably won’t look like it did for previous generations. Great opportunity exists for creative, energetic people.

Journalism is in the middle of a revolution bigger than any since Gutenberg. Consumer habits have changed rapidly with technology, while the business model that supported the newspaper industry is evaporating. Newspapers as previous generations knew them are not going to exist much longer.

That’s not a bad thing if they are replaced by something better. We have at our disposal today the greatest set of reporting and publishing tools the world has ever known. The next generation of journalists gets to figure out the best ways to use them. Some will work in general-interest publications. More will find a niche. Our niche, for example, is to seek and report stories of God’s work on the front lines of the Great Commission, in order to help engage the worldwide Church. And, to recruit and train others to do the same.

Back to what I would tell that high-school senior. It would go something like this: Go write for your local paper or news website, covering as many different things as you can, because it will give you the clearest indicator of what this work is really like. A college degree still is the ticket, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a journalism degree. Depending on where you go to school, you might even need to build your own. Learn basic reporting and news writing. Learn journalism law and ethics. Learn photo and video. Learn to code. Read and learn all you can about how the world works — government, business, education, religion, politics. Know how technology intersects with each of those areas. Take at least one course in entrepreneurship.

I would say the same thing to a student who’s interested in journalism and wants to impact the world for Christ. Entrepreneurial journalism offers the chance to report stories of God’s work to unprecedented audiences around the world. Christians who develop reporting skills and know how the world works can be like the biblical men of Issachar, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 12:32: “Men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”

More than ever, journalism needs to attract our best and brightest. To a student who wants a front-row seat as the world changes, this is still a pretty great choice.

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