Notes from Paul Lowenberg, of FastForward Communications, Seattle on "Bridging the Generation Gap."
It wasn't really a session, more of a conversation, since just one person was there for most of it. But, I learned a lot from the one attendee, Lindsay Toler, a 23-year-old journalist with an impressive reporting background, which included stints with the AP in London and blogging from the Beijing Olympics. We discussed whether there is a "generation gap" and what it means. She said it was apparent in her J-school classes at the university of Missouri, where older faculty were trying to teach young people like herself the art of using the latest high-tech media. She said she had been using computers since she was four years old and did not need to learn that, especially from people who were less familiar with the new media than she was. I was impressed with the fact that Lindsay said she wanted to learn more about writing and reporting skills and welcomed critiques of her articles.
Interestingly, she also noted that when she applied for jobs, editors were less interested in her writing ability than in her ability to teach colleagues how to use the new media. They saw her as a teacher rather than a writer.
I am 67 and come from a background which includes a stint as a wire service journalist (UPI in Los Angeles) in the late sixties. I talked about the "atmosphere" of a wire service newsroom in the noisy, telephone-ringing, typewriter-clacking, people-shouting, pre-computer days, and we compared that with the work-at-home and file your story job she had now working for a community weekly newspaper. We noted that in the "olden days" (as I like to call them) you were working with career news people who had been doing their jobs for decades and had an attachment and love for journalism, reporting, writing and editing. They cared about the quality of their stories, getting the facts right, writing good leads, checking with sources and scooping the competition. Lindsay and I felt that this is less the situation now. With the decline of media outlets like daily newspapers, there is less sense of competition. Reporters and editors and other journalism types are busy looking for their next job, whether in media or PR, or starting their own blog. Lindsay seemed to feel that her experience showed editors were not interested in good quality writing, only getting something in on deadline.
One encouraging note I offered her was that one facet of the "generation gap" is transitory. Within 10 years or so most of the "greybeards" ( I include women here, too) will be gone and their successors will be quite adept at using the new media, so that will be less of an issue. Perhaps then there will be a return to quality of writing and reporting issues.
I was at once disappointed with Lindsay's revelations, but also encouraged that there was a young person with her drive and eagerness to learn from experienced journalists. I gave me some hope for the future and I predict that Lindsay will make her mark in some facet of the profession. I hope so.