Three cheers for journalism

by Paul wahl

Sun sailor Newspapers


One of the highlights of my November each year is presenting during the Jefferson High School Career Day in Bloomington. Journalism isn’t as glamorous a field as say law or medicine or music, but there continues to be a good deal of interest in the field.

In some ways I’m surprised. You may have seen one of those polls on Yahoo or a similar site “10 Worst Careers of All Time.” Journalism is usually in there somewhere, often near the top.

Long hours, low pay, “combat” conditions … it’s definitely not dentistry, which was named the top job in a recent U.S. News survey. I guess there are similarities. Both dentists and journalists have the ability to inflict pain, although ours is less of a physical twinge.

To my knowledge, journalism is still ranked slightly higher than “telemarketer,” which was deemed the worst career by U.S. News.

So what do you tell a group of fresh and wide-eyed high school juniors about journalism after you have spent nearly 40 years in the field? Believe it or not, I’m still optimistic, and I continue to recommend journalism as a career.

Of course, the changes in my time have been too numerous to count – some for the better, some for the worse.

I began my career in the heyday of community journalism. The newspapers for which I wrote and edited were mostly the single source of news and information for their communities. The nearby big dailies hadn’t yet discovered we had a viable market, and the Internet was still a glimmer in Al Gore’s mind.

It was a heady experience to know readers depended on you to be their sole lifeline to the world around them. We took it very seriously.

The downside, of course, was that we in newspaper particularly got to thinking that we were the undisputed king of information and that we would never be replaced by anyone or anything. We were wrong, of course, and are still struggling in many ways to make up for our hubris.

But like so many other things, competition has made journalism better, and the new crop of journalists are bright and talented. I believe the future of our industry is in good hands.

Obviously, the young guns in the newsroom today approach things far differently than I do. I came up through the ranks in the days when it wasn’t unusual to go out into the community and find sources for stories. Email was not an option. Google was not an option. Most of our work was done face-to-face.

There were certain advantages in that method, but also one huge drawback. You might only get to two or three sources a week. Today’s journalists can make contact with dozens of sources daily.

My thanks to Eric Roesler, who coordinates the Jefferson High School Career Day, for allowing me to come and speak on my favorite topic.

I’m encouraged that there isn’t the pressure today that there was in my time to pick a career while still in diapers. If you think about it, today’s high school juniors may be working in careers that haven’t even been invented yet.

The best advice I leave with high school students is “learn to learn” and “be a lifelong learner.” That philosophy has served me well.


Contact Paul Wahl and [email protected]