Saturday, October 11, 2008

Watergate Wannabes: 5 Tips

Journalism pros weigh in on “making it” these days in Silicon Valley


It’s not just “journalism.” It’s the magic juice that shapes perceptions. It elects leaders, exposes scandal, brings joy and reflects our times. It gives us meaning, sometimes. People hold it dear. People are addicted to it. They swap stories they’ve heard. They forward links. And more and more, everyone wants to take part in creating it through blogs and other new media.

If the newspaper is dying – full disclosure: this reporter just cancelled her Wall Street Journal print subscription because online reading was more convenient – news is certainly not.

Still, the future of news is precarious. Bottom lines at traditional publishing houses are teetering and perhaps likely to tip in this current crisis.

So I asked a group of experts: Whither journalism? As a young professional, this wasn’t just navel-gazing reflection –my future’s at stake.

And Silicon Valley is a particularly great place to ask this question, because here is where the innovations that have been both news’ downfall and its revolution, its destroyer and liberator, have arisen. Namely, the Internet. Also, Craigslist, Digg and a host of social media to which people now turn for information. And while I’m not sure who first blew air into a bubble that grew into the blogosphere, I know many of its staunchest supporters are HQ’d in the Valley.

The people I queried included a local Pulitzer prize winner; a journalist synonymous with the Valley scene after a decade of coverage; a longtime tech correspondent who recently founded a journalism-centric startup; a refugee from the Bay Area’s gutted journalism scene who fled to New York; a newsanchor titan from the good ol' days based in the Big Apple; and a survivor at a local paper, still staggering forth despite the disappearance of many colleagues.

Why the anonymity? These folks spoke to me as friends, not as interview subjects. Only later did I realize their perceptions coalesced on several points. This seemed worth sharing, as a new breed of conventional wisdom -- the conventional wisdom of crisis and opportunity.  They are:


1. Don’t go into journalism.

Things aren’t like they used to be. The pay is awful and no one’s hiring. If I had to do it again, well, I don’t know what I’d do.


2. You’ve got to love it.

Ok, so you still want to be a reporter. It has to be because any other job would feel like excruciating torture. Maybe you crave to know what’s going on, who is making deals or where the action’s at. Maybe you need the freedom. Or maybe you just like people so much you want to talk to them and write for them all day. But you’ve got to want it really badly. Or it will never work out.


3. This is a great time to be a journalist.

Everything is changing. I don’t envy you. It’s scary out there now. Geez, it’s ugly. But you’re young and creative. Create a blog, brand yourself, specialize your content, be indispensable. Don’t tie your fortunes to one paper or blog. Be your own product. Silicon Valley is a hot topic and it’s not about to cool off. You may watch the great bonfire of profits and creative-professional wages flare for another few years before something dazzling and fertile emerges from the burnt ground. It’s an exciting time. This is the great democratization of media. Try to be part of it.


4. Just work hard.

There are no shortcuts. I went to every bullsh*t panel and networking event because you never know. I try to meet three new people a month. If you can meet the right people, you can make it, because you will have access to information everyone else wants about the most exciting region on Earth—Silicon Valley. Venture capitalists in particular have their eyes on what everyone else is doing. So cultivate your network.


5. I love this job.

Not technically a tip, but a significant commonality nonetheless.

Newspaper image CC-licensed 


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