As graduate students studying journalism at Columbia University, we feel a palpable sense of apprehension about the industry we’re about to enter. Scanning the news doesn’t exactly provide comfort, nor does the incessant questioning from friends and family about the wisdom of our career path. The essential question boils down to this: What are we getting ourselves into?
Understanding the future of this field means not only dissecting classic works of journalism. We need to do journalism, in all its forms. Fourteen master’s of journalism students took a class entitled “The Remaking of a Magazine” to examine the ways in which the Columbia Journalism Review can and should change in the digital age. The class allowed us not only to discuss what the best future for the magazine might be, but to take an active role in forging it. Since the word “magazine” no longer applies to print alone, we worked to produce both the May/June issue and our own version of a CJR website. Nearly every piece in this issue was written by a student, and each highlights an issue on the front edge of journalism: How do longtime journalists reflect on their transition into the digital sphere? What happens when someone dies a second time on social media? What happens when CBS launches a news channel aimed at millennials?
The centerpiece—our version of a cover story—features what we call The Top 11 List. These are what we believe to be the most provocative experiments in the news media right now, selected after rigorous discussion, research, and a final vote of the class.
Through our work on the magazine and in class discussions, we came to a few conclusions about the profession we now hope will absorb us into its ranks, conclusions that give us reason for hope and despair. One: We have a chance to be storytellers and journalists in all sorts of creative ways—including those that don’t rely on shoe leather and a written story. Two: Great ideas for experimental journalism aren’t the sole province of trendy startups with a ping-pong table and an open floor plan. Balancing this optimism is the reality that good journalism does not ensure profitability.
For those of us about to enter the field, experimentation will be a career-long theme. And for the profession as a whole, embracing change will be critical to producing the kind of impactful journalism we value. Adapt or die.