tom-hallman-blog-post

I was asked – via Twitter – a provocative question today following my post featuring a young journalist asking advice: Knowing what about how journalism has changed, would you still do it and advise others to?

The simple answer is yes.

But it’s a question that requires a more nuanced answer.

I’ve been in the business nearly 40 years. I started when the newsroom used manual typewriters and literally glued together sheets of paper containing my words. The stories were marked up by a city editor using a pencil before the copy was sent by tube to the basement where typesetters prepared it for print.

That was journalism.

Today, when I’m out in the field I can use my phone to take photos, videos and sent text back to my editor. From the field I can post a story on Facebook. I can Tweet it.

That, too, is journalism.

Change?

It’s hard to comprehend all the change.

But what remains?

Stories.

If you like – no love – stories, then go into journalism.

But you have to love the process by which a story finds its way onto the printed page, or on the computer screen.

You have to be damn curious about people.

You have to learn how to get them to let you in, and then you have to listen.

You have to feel.

You have to embrace the doubts and fears and vulnerabilities that come with creating.

You have to admit that you are never going to write the perfect story. But you will do better next time.

You have to remember who you are writing for – the readers.

I received this letter from a reader not too long ago: You always take me along on your journey and let me feel the air, taste the food and smell all the elements that make your job so interesting. You also let me feel their pain and share in their joys.

Notice something?

Not a word about writing or journalism.

If you understand what that reader wrote me, if you feel it in your gut, then yes, go into journalism.

Finally, you see that photo at the top of my post?

Those are the only tools you need: A good pen, one that feels right in your hand, and a place to write down what you feel, see and hear.

4 Comments

  1. Patrick Magee (@oldsweng) says:

    As a consumer of news, not a journalist, I see the new journalism being based on those who write well but also have developed photography and video skills. Since staff photographers are being replaced by reporters the reporters better have some visual media skills. Hannah Leone (@HannahMLeone), a former Oregonian reporter, is a good example of someone I believe is the future of journalism because her visual media skills are outstanding.

  2. Bill says:

    Uh, you’ve been in the biz 40 years and you’d still advise youngsters to go into journalism? You must be my crazy and my long-lost former colleague and friend Tom Hallman. In my dotage and forced retirement after 43 years in the ‘business’, I may teach a journalism class. I’ll call the roll, then say, ‘What the hell are you doing majoring in journalism?’ I’m not bitter, but what’s happened to journalism explains why we have so many nuts like the woman in Kentucky, sitting in jail because she claims to believe in a myth.

    • Tom,

      Thank you for the response. It seems while the delivery may change, there always will be stories that need telling.

      I’m just starting out and wanting to do longer-type work.

      How do we compete when there are Twitter, Facebook and 1,000 other stories a day instantly accessible?

      Unfortunately, it appears the “solution” is for news outlets become McFactories, cranking out reams of forgettable stories as fast as possible because everyone else is doing it. Worse still is everyone from a paper’s stakeholders, to its newer leadership, to the young readers it doesn’t have, all have embraced the quantity over quality model.

      Is there any hope for those wanting to do more, or are we to go as Bill did, the way of the dinosaur?

  3. Mark Johnson says:

    Despite the buyouts, layoffs, sinking circulation and general wave of industry bad news, I’m optimistic about the future for one reason. People still love to be told stories, whether it’s over the radio or online or in the pages of a newspaper or magazine. That passion for stories is hardwired in us. It’s the reason, I still see crowds in the big bookstores and smaller groups lingering for hours in small, used bookstores. A reporter at my paper, Annysa Johnson (no relation), recently wrote a story about one of the oldest victims of the priest sexual abuse scandal. The woman’s son is a priest. Annysa wrote about their relationship and their faith. She wrote beautifully and her srtory struck a chord. People all over the world sent Annysa notes and mentioned the story on Facebook. The story moved them. I don’t think that part has changed. There is a large audience out there looking for stories that move them, inform them, make them see how interesting the world is. Fifty years from now I think that audience will still be there.

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