Reflecting on time spent examining media’s impact.

Nothing is set in stone. The world is in constant motion and the industries that are media and journalism are no different. What journalists were originally centuries ago (party driven, biased commentators) are roles that have morphed and shifted throughout the years. As the definition of journalism has changed, so has the development of production and printing methods. News became easier to obtain and transmit with the telegraph then the complexity of news grew with the radio and television. The latest frontier to impact the transition and publication of media all comes down to digital, whether that means social media or a new way to advertise.

Just as the means of producing and accounting for news is changing, so is my perception of news. I want to change the world and serve as an inspiration for people. While some may think the easiest way of going about this would be to become a lawyer, politician or doctor, I’m taking a different route. I’d rather go to the far off reaches of the world and report on atrocities and heart-warming circumstances that would never be heard of otherwise. I have no issue (or, not at this time) with giving up everything I own and moving to Egypt or Africa, or going into a field that has extreme stigmas attached to it, such as suicidology or the non-profit To Write Love On Her Arms.

Ever since I was sixteen, these have been the only career paths I’ve ever thought of. There was that dreaming wistfulness of working as a photojournalist for National Geographic, and that’s still in the background, but the forefront is about making an impact. This idea of making an impact showed up in spurt all along this trip, in different ways than I was expecting. I never considered other possibilities as a journalist because I’ve been so set on my passions. I never knew there were so many different avenues in book publishing, or how advertising can be used to serve the world. I counted my eggs before they were hatched, and put on blinders to the rest of the world, something that, especially as a journalist, is never a good idea.

Perhaps the most surprising part of this trip is what I got out of the meetings. The meetings I discounted originally proved to be some of the most useful, whereas some of the meetings I was most looking forward to proved to be the most disappointing. Even the most dull, mundane conversation left an imprint or a new area of knowledge for me to explore. There were some meetings that left me so thrilled and excited that I instantly wanted to be back on my computer, looking up information and gaining knowledge. Then there were some meetings that did the opposite, and reinforced my, “I never want to work in this field” mentality.

The one common thread that ran through most of the meetings for me was the feeling of being overwhelmed, of needing to know so much initially and have so many connections to get a leg up. The thought of my looming future is always slightly terrifying, because how certain can one really be (especially at 20) about what they want to do with their life? I often hear the horror stories of the individuals who hate their job and, as I’ve never held a job I loathed going to every day, the fact that I may soon be one of that number makes me gulp in dread. If I want a leg up, to get myself in the door to a place that I don’t wake up and dread, the best I can do, as according to our meetings, is to have the desired skills, a willing to learn attitude and the ability to be flexible, especially early on in my career.

Now, this emphasis on desirable skills (of which there are many), rubs on me a bit. If I don’t have the time to read for fun during the school year, because I have so much going on with my course work, when am I going to find the time to become proficient in all these programs?? When we went to meetings and nearly everyone talked about how useful it is to know Final Cut Pro or HTML or another software program, I grimaced inside because becoming proficient in new software like that and being a full-time student does not mesh well. I’m fortunate to already know how to code websites with CSS and some Javascript, but using HTML 5 or Flash or Final Cut Pro are programs that are constantly evolving, and I don’t have the time to keep up with those. Granted, I don’t think I’m expected to know everything, especially right off the bat, but if I want a leg up and I don’t have the prestige of my last name or college to back me up, then I’m going to need some brilliance in my repertoire of skills.

I’ve heard for years that experience and the connections a person has are incredibly important, possibly ranking even with a tremendous skill set. Every executive we spoke with during our time in NYC and DC stressed the importance of an internship, putting the emphasis on real world experience over coursework. I found this thrilling, because I can already tell you that the skills I learned in class and were able to implement in The Whitworthian are the ones that have stuck with me. I feel comfortable utilizing that skill set in a way that I never did in class, and I’ve always thought that in the long run, applying skills to my real world life will be more beneficial for me than the grade I get in a certain subject.

This is especially true when examining the way investigative journalists use skills and knowledge to go about their business, which is particularly fascinating to me. We met with a number of groups that were brutally honest about investigative journalism and how disgruntled they were about the current trends many journalistic organizations take. Yet the ways these different journalism companies approach their jobs are much different. Some approach their work from a sensationalistic angle, where they essentially examine something just because they can. Granted, they try to pursue a new outlet and angle that hasn’t previously been covered, but sometimes I wondered if the content they publicized was really necessary and relevant. Then there are those who are funded by non-profits, and provide reports and content that really does seem objective. I’ve always loved investigative journalism, and meeting with these individuals allowed me to learn more about the inner-workings of investigative journalism, as well as giving me some tips and ideas about how to go about investigating an incident.

Another commonality between nearly all groups led me to critically examine social networking, both as a user and as a researcher. The Smoking Gun showed us an incredible use of social media for researching different people and different incidents; a demonstration that opened my mind to a whole new way of doing background research for stories. Every meeting also stressed the importance of keeping your online identity clean and secure, as once something is posted on the internet there is no getting rid of it and many of the Human Resource professionals said they would check a Facebook or Twitter account of a prospective employee.

The most rewarding part of the trip, relating to reinforcing an idea I already knew (or thought I did), was the emphasis on social media. Meeting with Sree Sreenivasan was enlightening, as his hour mostly focused on the importance of social media and following various news sites, specifically mentioning Mashable. Mashable is by far one of my favourite sites, and one of the reasons I find it most enjoyable is because I will often see tech stories posted on this site and occurring on the East coast, weeks before hearing word of it on the West coast. Monitoring it gives Jessica and I things to talk about, and gives me ideas about upcoming technologies that could increase my knowledge or be applicable for The Whitworthian.

On the other hand, it was interesting to see how many organisations were taking the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach to new media. We talked to some organisations that stated they had just begun, last year, to utilize Facebook or Twitter. Then there were others who didn’t push their content on Facebook or Twitter at all. At all. This blew my mind; as to me it’s always been common sense to meet the people where they are. Yes, there is still a market with the baby-boomers for pushing print content, but I can tell you that lately my dad has been reading on a computer screen instead of the print newspaper, because it’s easier to increase the type size. This alone shows me that, even for baby-boomers, online content is useful and beneficial.

For me personally, I only read hard copies of my local paper when I’m home, and USA Today and New York Times when I’m at school. The rest of the time, I read these publications (as well as three or four others) solely on my Tumblr and RSS feeds online. I’m 20, part of the college audience, and I know that there’s a growing number of us who use the Internet for news. So to me, saying that you don’t push your content out online is simply a bad business skill. With new media, you have to be quick to adapt, to stay on top of it, because no one knows where it’s going or the changes that will come. Stay in the old ruts for too long, and you won’t get out.

Besides this talk of social media and new media in the meetings, it was also fascinating to examine the differences between the East and West coast in how media is used. The East coast seems to be much more advanced in social media, as I noticed Microsoft Tag Reader emblems all over advertisements and publications, whereas on the West coast I’ve rarely seen them. Foursquare, Twitter and LinkedIn are also huge on the East coast, and while I have all three accounts and attempt to use them professionally, the majority of my friends use them for fun or personal use. Social media is much more corporately used on the East coast, at least it seems to be, but then again, I am a West coast college student, so I could be wrong on that assessment.

Speaking of West coast vs. East coast, I’ve learned that in order to thrive in NYC or DC, one must realise time is power and niceties aren’t always common. I rushed through a door being held by a 30 year-old gentlemen and hastily told him thanks as I scurried through. He looked at me like I was an alien and it made me wonder, have pleasantries gone by the wayside with the fast-paced culture that is NYC? On the West coast, saying nothing would have been more surprising than hearing a thank you. Something I did love about the East coast however, is what total autonomy feels like. Try walking down the street in Upper Manhattan or riding the subway down to Brooklyn and see if you run into anyone you know. You’re just another face in the crowd there, and for a woman like me who is from a small town where everyone knows everyone, that feeling of being anonymous was something I absolutely loved.

This feeling of time is power also played a role in learning to never take no for an answer. This is perhaps one of the more important lessons I learned, as I can get down when things don’t work out the way I want them to. At Ketchum, it was stressed how importance it is to look over your resume to find what area is the weakest after hearing “no”, and then going out and strengthening that area. Hopefully you know by now Jim, that I’m in love with the work of a non-profit in Florida. I applied for their internship program the first year they offered it, when I was 16, and was turned down. While this was because their interns needed to be 18, I was still quite upset, but having been told no gave me the boost to build up my resume and skill set so that hopefully, the next time I apply for an internship with them, I’ll be accepted as a crucial part of their team.

In every meeting we went to, the power of teamwork was apparent, whether showcased visibly before us in the meetings, or in the tours around the building with the many different individuals working towards a cohesive product. On the majority of the meetings we went to (TV Guide specifically stands out) I often had more interested in the people behind the scenes. At TV Guide, I thought the man who was in charge of editing the video had a much more fascinating job than the woman in charge of interviewing the celebrities. When we went to Ketchum and Saatchi and Saatchi, I was more interested in working in the creative divisions, that would allow me to work on a product from beginning to end, instead of sending it out for someone else to do the work. These fascinations with the behind the scenes activities are something I’ve always known to hold, but it was especially prevalent on this trip.

One of the greatest worries I hold about finding a job is that it will be something mundane and boring, something that doesn’t challenge my mind. This worry meant that the youthful attitude that many of the sites we visited held was quite a surprise to me. I’ve been fortunate to have worked in environments that included a variety of skills and individuals, and I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to work at a stuffy corporation where there is no room to be creative. However, as seen at Ketchum and specifically, Saatchi and Saatchi, there is still a variety of work done in a 9 to 5 job, and there is definitely still a youthful vibe to many organisations.

While all the meetings we had put an emphasis on transparency, the way some go about applying this transparency can differ dramatically. Some corporations seemed to think that the “fish in a glass bowl” approach is the best way, when to me this seems like a total Orwellian approach. Monitoring the constant moves of a person as these types of corporations do infringes upon my belief in a basic need for personal privacy. On the other hand, knowing exactly where a publication stands because they blatantly tell me is transparency I like to see.

Even the organisations we visited that I didn’t agree with I enjoyed, such as Jason Mattara at Human Events. I think it’s important to be able to listen to the opinion of someone on the other side and acknowledge their point, but still be able to refute it with your own opinion and beliefs. One thing Whitworth has taught me is that asking the hard questions is okay, disagreeing is okay; that by arguing your point and hearing other’s is one of the few sure ways to refine your own argument and strengthen your core beliefs. This is much the same for Mattara’s publication because while I don’t agree with his political stance, there is still something to be learned and some common ground to be found.

The over-all theme of the trip had to do with examining media impact in media hubs and out across America. I’ve learned through my classes at Whitworth that this impact media has on society is prevalent and easy to spot. In fact, Jessica and I determined that agenda setting theory, or the idea that the media defines what the public thinks and therefore the policy that affects the public is swayed by the media’s agenda. The current idea of agenda setting theory takes into account traditional media sources. However, after meeting with so many executives that stressed the importance of digital media or social media, I’ve determined (jokingly, of course) that this theory should be edited. After meeting with Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, it was discussed that friends and acquaintances now determine what news is importance, thereby setting the public agenda. By utilizing social networking sites to dispatch this information (via Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr feeds), it is easier for individuals to influence what others view. I personally often post news articles and Tumblr posts onto my Facebook, and utilize Twitter mainly for re-tweeting headlines of news articles I find particularly interesting. While many of my friends do not read the newspaper or have access to a television, I am influencing the media they consume with these postings.

Speaking of consuming media, another aspect that was discussed specifically at Regnery Publishing was the importance of having a variety of media outlets covering a variety of political stances. The Editorial Director, Harry Crocker, spoke of England and how the main newspaper publications in England are openly biased towards certain parties. However, a liberal publication (like The Guardian) and a conservative publication are both owned by the same corporation and the general audience in England reads both. This insures that these people will get a somewhat well-rounded news diet, as compared to the United States, where many people only choose to read publications that agree with their beliefs, such as conservatives reading Human Events or liberals reading San Francisco Chronicle. Hearing Crocker speak about England’s journalism system was fascinating, as I will hopefully have the opportunity to learn first hand next semester when I study in England.

Besides having the privilege to interact with such a number of influential media executives, I was also blessed with the opportunity to explore various museums throughout New York City and DC. Two of the most influential to me were the Holocaust Museum and Newseum. While the Holocaust Museum is a sobering and fascinating place, I couldn’t help but think of how media played a role in the Holocaust. In the Newseum, I fell in love with the Pulitzer Prize photography section. This section also led to heated debates between my classmates, as shown in previous blog posts. These debates proved fascinating to me, as they showed the differences in how my fellow comrades and I regard photojournalism.
They questioned how a photographer could shoot images of such atrocities without doing such a thing, such as helping war causalities or starving children. I, however, have the mentality that they are working for a broader picture by documenting events so that the world knows and with the hope that people would see those pictures and never let anything similar happen again. This showed different mentalities, with neither being truer than the other, and both being interesting to discuss.

This trip opened my eyes to new possibilities and new connections. I was given the opportunity to network and learn about career options during meetings, and learned more about myself in the process. While our pace was at time frantic and hectic, I was constantly engaging in the outside world and society. We were all pushed to make the most of the opportunity we had and I haven taken much that I’ve learned back to implement in my life and career.

(Now that I’ve talked about some of these experiences and how they relate to my life or a broader picture, I’m going to leave you with a word cloud of the most prevalent words we heard. The largest words were stressed the most, and the size varies on down.)

To be posted later…

  1. #1 by James McPherson on February 13, 2011 - 2:22 am

    So where is that promised word cloud? And with your photo and technical skills, perhaps some photos, video and/or links?This is a very thoughtful essay, though. I hope you end up at that nonprofit in Florida, after a great semester in Great Britain.

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