Mothers of Intention — What is the Future of Journalism?

Mothers of Intention 1

This week I’m honored to have as my guest Mother of Intention, Gina Chen. Gina has 20 years experience as a print journalist and is starting a Ph.D. program this fall at Syracuse University. She blogged about parenting for two years at the Family Life blog and now she blogs about journalism at Save the Media and Harvard University’s  Nieman Journalism Lab. She and her husband have two children, ages 9 and 6. They live in Syracuse in Upstate New York. And, like me, she has some concerns about the future of the craft of journalism and she’s planning on doing something about it.

I realize that in my lifetime I may see the day when the last daily American newspaper rolls off the presses. I find that sad, as a journalist who spent a 20-year career working at newspapers. I find it sad, as an American who believes a free press is vital to our democracy.

But I’m not giving up hope yet. As a sign of my commitment, I quit my newspaper job this summer and I’m heading back to school to get my Ph.D., so I can teach the world’s future journalists. I feel passionately that journalism will survive, must survive.

I truly believe it will. To me, the Internet isn’t the threat to journalism that so many people see it as. Sure, it messed with newspapers’ business plans. It meant that newspapers could no longer squeeze out the amount of ad dollars to which they had grown accustomed. But that’s not journalism; that’s advertising. News organizations can find another way to make money. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible.

I’m hopeful journalism can survive because I hear enough voices that realize that change doesn’t have to be bad; doing things differently can be empowering. Sometimes in life we need a bit of kick in the pants to change our ways. The Internet is simply journalism’s kick in the pants: the Web made it impossible for newspapers to continue the way they had been. That’s a good thing, I think.

Long before the Internet came along, newspapers were losing their readers. The world was changing. Newspaper readership was dropping since just after World War II. I think it’s no secret newspapers didn’t succeed in stemming that tide. They didn’t find a way to engage the young, women or people of color or lots of other readers.

I believe the blogosphere has stepped in where newspapers left off. It has embraced people’s specific interests. There are blogs for every niche — parents of children with autism, people who like motorcycles, even those who hate excessive quotation marks.

Blogs don’t limit things for journalists — they open up so many possibilities for reaching readers, providing news and information, and helping them make sense of the world.

I believe the debates over whether bloggers are journalists or whether journalists should blog or what journalism is while interesting, are missing the point. Journalists in the present and the future will blog. That’s not because blogging is some radical solution to the current newspaper crisis. It’s because blogging allows people to connect, share ideas, voice opinions, find things out. Why would anyone want to stop that?

I think blogging holds a great potential, particularly for women, who have traditionally been left out of the public discourse. I love being able to read my favorite blogs and find out what women have to say about parenting, children, politics, life, husbands, health care, the recession. I believe blogs have given women a voice in a sense that they just can’t get through the mainstream media. I hope their voices will get represented on news sites, not just on private blogs. But I love that any woman in the industrialized world with a computer can publish her thoughts anytime for free with the potential for others to read what she has to say.

When have women ever had that opportunity?

As part of my Ph.D., I have to pick a topic on which I’ll become an expert. For me, I want to be an expert on women bloggers. I want to understand what they get out of it. What it means to them. Whether it helps them connect. Whether it replaces or augments face-to-face relationships. How it helps women deal with break-ups, a child’s death, or a fatal illness. Whether it truly gives them the voice I think it does.

For me, this study of women bloggers is part of journalism. It’s part of understanding our world and part of giving our readers what they want, what they need, and what they obviously aren’t getting from newspapers now.

Journalism for sure will go through some growing pains. It won’t be an easy few years. News organizations may never be as large as they once were, and journalists may need to be more entrepreneurial than they ever were. But as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I truly believe journalism will come out the stronger for this ultimate test of its mettle. At least, I hope so.

Read Gina’s blog at SavetheMedia and follow Gina at Twitter.com/GinaMChen

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3 Responses to “Mothers of Intention — What is the Future of Journalism?”

  1. Daisy Says:

    Great thinking! I like your focus; so many women bloggers are saying great things. I hope you’ll blog along the way, and share the URL with the world of blogging women in the process.

  2. Cindy La Ferle Says:

    I applaud you for exploring this important topic — and look forward to your findings. (I’ll head over to SavetheMedia too.)

    I’ve worked for newspapers as a features writer and columnist since 1984, up until last year. You’re spot on when you note that newspapers were showing signs of decline long before blogging became so popular.

    Television news shows are also partly responsible for killing newspapers around the country. The Internet merely put the last nail in the coffin. That said, it was a pretty big nail.

    While it’s true that journalism must reinvent itself, I don’t feel that bloggers (myself included) will have the last word — at least not for Boomers and older seniors. Fewer friends my age (late forties/early fifties) spend as much recreational time online as I or my younger friends do. Boomers insist they prefer newspapers and magazines. Their kids are grown and out of the house, so they’re not as inclined to look for “community” through blogging.

    There are so many blogs and Web sites to surf now, which is wonderful — but that also makes it incredibly overwhelming to choose from all that’s available. That’s a whole new set of challenges for publishers, advertisers, and readers who are pressed for time.

    I look forward to seeing what’s next, in any event. Thanks for keeping us posted — glad I found your piece here!


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