There Will Be Journalists

There Will Be Journalists

Local students prove that rumors of a dying profession are greatly exaggerated

By Shane Cohn 04/11/2013


Journalism is dying.

At least that is what the skeptics will tell you. And if you’re a headline-only reader, it would be hard to convince you otherwise. Convincing you that just as much as any other time in American history, the people want to be informed. They want fraud to be exposed. They want the news.

Because in the headlines, you’ve likely come across news about another print newspaper laying off employees, limiting its publication days, switching to online-only presence, or ultimately, in a final act of mercy, stopping the presses and ceasing to exist. 

But that isn’t news anymore. Print still fights tooth and nail, though there has been a reluctant concession to the digital world. The idea of receiving something as big as the world news for free is irresistible. The concept of “free” is crushing the print journalism industry, just as “free” toppled the music industry. 

Besides delivering the news, newspapers helped define the world, and people subscribed to them, believed in them and it shaped their daily life and views. Many daily papers had two editions, one in the morning and one in the evening. Now they struggle just to maintain a smaller version of the morning paper, and many have resorted to only a few staff writers with the majority of news being culled from the Associated Press.


Photo by Matthew Hill, ©2013
Clockwise From left. Journalism teacher Melissa Wantz, English teacher Kelly Savio, Felicia Perez, Jackson Toar, Aysen Tan, Glenda Marshall, Kienna Kulzer, Katie Sones, Canela Lopez, Megan Kearney, Rachel Crane, and Allison Clark.

While the Watergate scandal brought a tremendous resurgence in kids going back to graduate school for print journalism, the idea of kids today doing the same thing would be like paying a small fortune to learn how to weave baskets. It’s a good skill, but hardly practical in the modern world.

This leaves one to wonder about the future of hard-hitting journalism, regardless of it being digital or print, and if the younger generation has any interest at all in stepping into this question mark of a field.

The success of a local high school journalism program, however, reveals the relevance of this age-old profession.

In the past four years, the Foothill Dragon Press at Foothill Technology High School in Ventura has become one of the more elite high school journalism programs in the country. Since its conception in 2008, the digital pub has won three Online Pacemakers — the highest and most competitive award for classroom journalism in the country; a Gold Crown Award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association; been named best high school news site four years running by the Ventura County Star; and the Tri-County Journalism Education Association named it the best online newspaper for the past four years.

“Because of the caliber of students at Foothill, this has become a successful program in a short period of time,” says Melissa Wantz, the journalism instructor. “This makes it a lot of fun because success builds on success, and other kids hear about it and want to be a part of it.”

It’s wild that in 2013, Wantz has to turn away students from a high school journalism program. It’s an elective and students really only need to take it once to satisfy college requirements, but the idea of producing lasting content and seeing tangible recognition has found its place at Foothill. The class maxes out at 40 students, but 60 applied for next year, including 25 students who reapplied.


© Science & Society Picture Library, UK.
Zoltan Glass: A journalist writing in his BMW, Paris 1934

“It doesn’t feel like a class, but like a very large project,” says Foothill sophomore Ben Limpich, Dragon Press news writer. “We want to make this site as good as possible. People are actually getting affected by it, and that connection to people is so unique.”

“I think that people, no matter what age, are looking for a community to provide their work in,” says Wantz, who worked as a journalist at the VC Star for nearly a decade before becoming a teacher. “I think journalism provides the best possible community because you’re working with articulate, smart, well informed people and it’s fun to work with people who know what’s going on, or think they know what’s going on, and there are lots of arguments, but it’s fun. I think that is what draws people to the class and it’s that kind of person that would be drawn to journalism in the future.”

Regarding the future of journalism, a look at the Dragon Press analytics provides a snapshot of how people are digesting their news. During this past school year, the online Dragon Press attracted 40,211 visits and 17,370 of those were unique visitors; 7,657 of those visitors were using a mobile device. Two years ago, there were only 424 visits by way of mobile device, and 3,663 unique visitors. The top two mobile devices used were the iPhone and iPad.

It will still be decades, however, before, and if, American print journalism completely folds. Wantz believes boutique weeklies and major newspapers will always have a place in society.

Tim Gallagher, owner of 20/20 Network and former publisher and editor at VC Star, says that while the generational tech gap begins to blend, some habits will always die-hard.

“The largest demographic poll is baby boomers, and they are print readers by preference,” he explains. “They will be around for decades, but it gets smaller and smaller and smaller.”

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 74 percent of U.S. newspaper readership is concentrated in people older than 45. Most advertisers are always seeking a younger audience, which means publishers are struggling to attract enough print advertisers to maintain a profitable print circulation, and to keep journalists on staff.

“We [print] lost the advertising game, the classified game and couldn’t support the structure we built,” says Gallagher.

Lucas Wiltjer, 15, who will be the Dragon Press editor-in-chief next school year, doesn’t think print will be around much longer because his generation is growing up reading the news with handheld devices.

“I see it happening,” says Wiltjer about the permanent switch to online media. “Print is losing that tactile experience because soon it won’t occur to people that using an iPad or a Kindle is all that different.”

The shift to online readership means an immeasurable amount of news sources, as anybody can report and publish, which can obviously clog the mainline for accurate, responsible reporting. Does this result in the tanking of journalism, as many, especially youth, now turn to social media as a primary news source?

Wantz doesn’t think so. In fact, she believes quite the opposite.

“I think they know how to cut through the BS and get to the truth,” she says. “They’re living in a world surrounded by so many multiples of information, multiple degrees of information [more] than what we grew up with, and they’re swimming in it. To survive in this world, or even make sense with their friends when they talk about the world, or go to buy a product, they have to wade through the crap that is out there and the misinformation. And they’ve had to wade through that from the time they started reading on the Internet. They get good and sophisticated at discerning what’s legitimate in a way that sometimes adults in the world don’t give them credit for.”

Gallagher agrees, but said that with the glut and variety of news feeds now available, it has also become wonderfully convenient to only digest the facts you want to hear.

“The journey of learning the truth is important. Unfortunately, now people turn to the website or TV station that agrees with their point of view,” he says. “What I learned is if your mother says, ‘I love you,’ go check it out.”

The 2012 State of the News Media produced by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism confirms that people are turning away from their trusted news sources because they simply aren’t as content rich anymore.

KEYT News Director Jim Lemon says his station is constantly adding multiple ways to communicate to more people, especially younger folks.

“We have a website, mobile apps, a TV platform and we’re spending millions of dollars here upgrading facilities with HD gear, but all with the intent of reaching viewers,” says Lemon.

The news media has completely flipped in a way to make it relevant for the times, leaving little room for nostalgia.

“There is a much more active process today and not nearly as passive at it used to be,” says Lemon. “It used to be in the old days you sat down, and we pushed it at you and you received it. Now you choose and you pick and you read and share and you comment and engage with a story.”

In Wantz’s class, the students learn from her about writing story leads and headlines, ethics and responsibility, managing a website and a staff. From there, the students essentially take the lead and have made it the award winning publication it is. Student-editors use iPads to manage their staff and publishing. They’re driven and mature, and understand the importance of their digital legacy. While other students their age may have a digital footprint consisting of a Facebook account or sports activity, come college or job application time, these new journalists are leaving behind a searchable legacy that shows they care about their place and time in the world. Wantz believes this plays a large part in the growing popularity of high school journalism.

“When a college admissions officer or employer googles the person on the résumé or application, they’re going to see their body of work already,” Wantz explains. “They can see you’re articulate and that you can write and it’s a skill lots of employers and colleges would like to see. It shows you’re serious and that wasn’t available when we were in high school.”

As a sophomore English major at CSU, Channel Islands, Grier King is the managing editor of the school’s print newspaper. People ask her all the time what she’s doing getting into a dying profession. “Without a younger generation in place that’s passionate about this field, it will wither,” King says. “But I feel as though we [journalists] have to take on this responsibility with the understanding that we, almost exclusively, hold it.”

Statistics can be pulled and shaped to take either side of the print/digital news argument, but the one thing we can be sure of is we’re standing smack in the middle of it. Ten years from now, the way we digest news will perhaps be more certain, but the technology curve will be ever changing. The one constant of it all will be the craving for the truth. And as long as there is that craving, there will be news. There will be journalists. 

Local daily paper joins others in erecting a cyber paywall
Trend reveals struggle for revenue online

by Shane Cohn




The Ventura County Star recently announced to its advertisers late last month that the publication will be erecting a paywall for much of its online content.

On March 25, a letter from the advertising department stated that “most content will be reserved for subscribers. In addition, some important breaking news stories and features will be available without a subscription, but only for a short time.”

Current newspaper subscribers will have complete access to online news, the letter stated, and there will also be digital-only subscriptions available.

Margie Cochrane, publisher of the VC Star, was not available to comment about when the paywall would be erected, though sources at the Star indicated it would happen after the end of the month.

The decision to implement a paywall has been trending for daily newspapers around the country, as publications are tinkering with ways to drive revenue when online ad sales are not matching what print ads were once able to produce. While digital newspaper advertising is supposed to be the future of ad revenue, Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media 2013 reported that in 2012 newspapers lost $16 in print ads for every $1 earned in digital ads.

The report noted that 450 of the nation’s 1,380 dailies have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or paywall plan. Major publications such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post have all implemented some form of a paywall. The Los Angeles Times last year issued a metered paywall that allows readers to access 15 stories a month without a paid subscription.

“The metered product,” said Joe Wirt, director of affiliate relations for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, “is giving skeptical and thrifty consumers a way to get a taste of it, and to see hopefully, the content you find locally and nowhere else is worth something.”

While much of the populace is used to reading their news online for free, Wirt said the paywall is something that most newspapers in California are considering. Because people will be paying for a product that was once free, Wirt said, readers will likely be judgmental about their purchase and publications will need to take advantage of the different facets of multimedia that the print experience doesn’t offer.

“You’re going to have to up your game a bit,” said Wirt. “They [newspapers] are all looking to see what the other guy is doing, to see how their market will bare.”  


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