By Caitlin Kelly
They’re not really kids, of course, and they’re not ours.
They were, briefly, ours to teach and mentor and work with.
A week ago, Jose, I, and other veteran journalists, working as editors and web specialists, from Tucson, Boston and New York, said a reluctant farewell to the 24 young men and women starting to work in journalism — scattered this summer to internships at CNN in Atlanta, the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Oregonian in Portland to name a few — that we met during The New York Times Student Journalism Institute in Tucson.
The Times has been offering the Institute for a few years now, alternating between Hispanic and African-American students, in Tucson and in New Orleans. It’s a terrific chance for students to come and be mentored, one-on-one, by veterans of our business.
It’s also, for Jose and I — who don’t have kids, or even nieces or nephews close at hand — a lovely chance to meet, mentor and get to know the next generation of journalists. Their passion, energy, smarts and excitement are invigorating. It’s so fun to watch them jumping headlong into difficult and challenging projects, helping their skills develop and their confidence grow.
We’re also deeply touched when, as happens every year, we’re each pulled aside and asked some tough personal questions by young people we have barely met, but who are hungry for candid answers from veterans a few decades into their chosen field:
How do you define success? Can I be a good journalist and have a thriving marriage? How? What about kids?
Can I get ahead and not be a total jerk about it?
How will I be able to handle the pressure? What if I can’t?
We offer them our insights, and hope they’re helpful.
Jose and I admit, though, that we would have breezed right past one another in our gogogogogogogo 20s, even 30s, desperate to carve out our niches within this hyper-competitive industry.
We were lucky enough to meet in our early 40s, too late to have kids of our own, but have remained close with several Institute alumni and hope to do so with several of this year’s group as well. Marie de Jesus, an Institute alum now working at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, even shot our wedding in Toronto in 2011.
But it’s hard to offer truly useful advice to newcomers to journalism these days, whether employed or not, intern or freelance. The euphemism used to describe our industry these days is “disrupted” — aka chaos, guessing and hoping for the best.
One of the Institute students, hired as a summer intern by the Sun-Times, was flabbergasted as we all learned that the paper had suddenly and abruptly fired all 28 of its staff shooters and is now teaching its reporters, instead, to take photos with their I-phones.
That seemed to suggest that Alex, our student, would be the only trained news photographer on staff, suddenly responsible for covering — you know — the entire city of Chicago single-handed.
Are you fucking kidding me?
Here’s what Fortune magazine had to say about that:
Reporters, it should be noted, are in general terrible at taking pictures. Photographs snapped on iPhones by photographically inept reporters who are also trying to gather information at an accident scene, for example, are not going to impress anyone, digitally savvy or not. Journalism schools (again, often working from the addled theories of certain tech pundits and consultants) have been pushing the idea of “multimedia journalism” — that is, having reporters take photos and shoot video. Many of them offer training in this area. Most often, this results in nothing more than one person doing three jobs poorly rather than doing one job well. It also tends to sabotage the notion that all of these are professional endeavors and to strengthen the false notion that anybody could perform any of them equally well. This reveals a shocking level of disrespect for both journalists and readers.
It’s as if your local hospital fired every staff surgeon — handing kitchen knives to the orderlies, with which to cut us all open.
What do we tell our “kids”, then, in the face of such naked greed and stupidity? That this is the quality of senior management of the profession they have chosen? Sometimes, sadly, yes it is.
So our “kids” — now connected to one another, and to some of us, through every possible iteration of social media — are off on their own. We’ve called our pals in every city they’ve landed to make sure someone local and helpful, usually a fellow journo or photographer, is offering them a meal and a welcome.
We look forward to seeing their photos and stories, to hearing their tales of woe and joy.
We miss them!