— Margaret Mary Hicks (@mmhicks19) April 8, 2016
Below is the blog version of the prepared part of my session, interspersed with tweets from the participants and hyperlinked. It’s not exactly what I said because I wasn’t reading a script. At the end of the post, I’ll explain how I prepared the speech and post and why they’re not identical.
— Will Drabold (@WillDrabold) April 8, 2016
We’re going to talk a lot about change this evening and this weekend. Student media need to change, perhaps more urgently than professional media. But I want to start by talking about one thing we shouldn’t change: Our commitment to and our priority on excellent journalism.
Our students at LSU did some outstanding investigative journalism this week, and I want to start by sharing it with you. So yesterday I hauled as many copies of the Daily Reveille as I could jam into my backpack for this trip to share with you tonight.
— Hillary Warren (@jadviser) April 8, 2016
Reporter Sarah Gamard did some excellent reporting on sexual assaults on gameday weekends, primarily home football games. I’m proud of this work by our students, which included an excellent photo illustration, interactive timeline, strongly written editorial and the outstanding print design you can see here.
— David Simpson (@adviserdavid) April 8, 2016
I think it’s important to start this conversation with a focus on journalism. Our focus on change needs to be a focus on using technology to do better journalism, on using technology to reach more people with our outstanding journalism and on making money to fund journalism, which isn’t cheap.
— profstewartrk (@profstewartrk) April 8, 2016
I’ve spoken at more than 50 colleges and universities, but this is as meaningful as any campus visit for me. My aspiration to be a journalist found focus and confidence on this campus nearly 46 years ago, after my sophomore year at Reynoldsburg High School in the Columbus area. I attended the summer High School Journalism Workshop here at Ohio University, and the learning and teamwork and excitement of that week confirmed and clarified my career ambition since I was in grade school: I wanted to be a journalist.
That was a newsy time in Ohio. Four students were killed at Kent State University that May and this campus and others in the state were closed down because of student protests. Andy Alexander, a visiting professional here, was editor of the Post and led coverage of the riots here on campus.
Like many other students in Ohio, I wanted to take to the streets. But I wanted to have a notebook in my hand, rather than a protest sign. I wanted to be telling the story and I was excited about pursuing a career as a journalist.
I had been a staff writer my sophomore year for the Doubloon, the oddly named student newspaper of Reynoldsburg High, and I joined two other Doubloon staff members in coming to the workshop after order was restored and the campus reopened.
I’ve been to Ohio many times since then, but this is my first time back in Athens, and I am truly delighted to be here and to be talking about the future of student media with another student group assembled at this important journalism school that helped fuel my career.
The teacher who probably had the most impact on me from that conference was a woman named Mrs. Price (I wish I had known her first name, so I could Google and maybe find out if she’s still alive and try to thank her). She was a journalism teacher from Massachusetts who taught me important points at this workshop. She made journalism sound so important and interesting to me that I couldn’t wait to start my career.
— David Simpson (@adviserdavid) April 8, 2016
Well, I started my professional journalism career about a year later. My father retired from the Air Force the summer I came here, and we moved to Shenandoah, Iowa. The following summer, the Shenandoah newspaper, the Evening Sentinel, was looking for a part-time sports writer. I got the job, covering sports at high schools in towns even smaller than Shenandoah. I can’t remember whether I was paid 10 cents an inch for my writing and 15 cents a mile for my driving, or vice versa. But I wrote a lot, developing a love of long-form writing that continues today and that sometimes frustrated my editors.
A year later, my college student media career started during my freshman year at Texas Christian University when I became a staff writer for the Daily Skiff, another oddly named student newspaper. Back when I was editor of the Skiff, and still today, student media serve two primary purposes: First, we serve (or try to serve) the media needs of our university communities. Second (and more important to most students, and to me), we prepare students for careers in the media as reporters, editors, producers, news directors, photographers, designers, sales reps, advertising managers and the full range of important and exciting jobs that media offer.
To prepare students for these careers that lie ahead, student media have pretty much imitated and followed professional media. We did when I was a student in the 1970s and we still do today. We try to teach, learn and practice the same professional techniques and ethical principles that are practiced in the newsrooms and advertising departments where our students hope to work.
That approach served us well for decades. I went from an excellent journalism program to a fulfilling career and I have hired dozens of J-school grads for important journalism jobs, helping them launch and advance successful careers.
— Megan Henry (@megankhenry) April 8, 2016
But our approach needs to change: It’s time for student media to lead professional media, rather than following and imitating. Professional media have not figured out the mobile-media world where students live so much of your lives. Professional media have not developed many successful models to support quality journalism in the mobile age.
Newspapers and television stations may be able to afford, for a few years more, to limp along trying to serve people like me with fond memories of the 1970s. But your audience – our audience as student media – is heavily if not exclusively people who started pestering their parents for their first smartphones when they were in middle school.
Though most professional journalists have had smartphones longer than you, and we also overuse them, you started using mobile media during formative years, and your experience and culture are greatly different from ours.
If student media are going to find and build a prosperous future, we need to learn and master the journalistic and commercial opportunities of mobile media. We can’t wait for your elders to figure it out first, and we must take advantage of your knowledge and experience in mobile culture.
I was simultaneously pleased and frustrated to read yesterday that the Boston Globe is trying to reinvent itself as if starting a brand-new competitor to the Globe today. I hope this effort lays the groundwork for a prosperous future for the Globe, the important American journalism institution whose spectacular success we celebrated when we watched the Oscar-winning Best Picture, “Spotlight.”
Have you watched “Spotlight”? If you haven’t, that’s your homework assignment. Watch “Spotlight” so you can understand why journalism is worthy of saving and reinventing. It’s damned important for Boston and for journalism that the Globe succeed in this reinvention.
But part of me wanted to curse and throw my iPad across the airport lounge yesterday when I was reading Editor Brian McGrory’s note to the staff. A decade ago, when I worked the organization that’s consulting on the Globe’s reinvention, the American Press Institute, we presented the newspaper industry with a blueprint for reinvention called Newspaper Next. Publishers and editors across the industry applauded it and asked us to present detailed workshops for their staffs. And 10 years later, nobody reinvented a single organization in any meaningful way. You can’t imitate and follow these organizations. You need to lead them.
I’m not particularly a visionary, but I called in November 2009 for media companies to adopt mobile-first strategies. Mobile media devices, apps and opportunities have multiplied again and again since then, and I’m still waiting for most professional media companies to pursue mobile opportunities with the priority and resources they require. And I’m getting sick and tired of reading and hearing about how urgent it is for traditional media to take seriously the importance of mobile media. The need was urgent six years ago, and if you haven’t taken it seriously yet, I think there’s a good chance you aren’t going to catch up.
Students have 2 advantages in media:
1. Don’t have years to drag feet
2. Ability to take risks #FutureStuMedia
— The Post (@ThePost) April 8, 2016
An important advantage student media have over professional media is that you don’t have much time to make your mark on your organizations. And you won’t need to clean up whatever messes you make, so you can take risks, huge risks. Most editors, station managers and other leaders of student media are seniors. You can’t launch a years-long reinvention. If you’re a junior who’s going to be editor or station manager in the fall, you’ve got next year. And if you try something bold and screw things up royally, well, you’re graduating so no one even needs to fire you. We just need to give you passing grades.
But if you try something bold and it succeeds, I guarandamntee you that someone in the professional media is going to hire you so they can learn your secret sauce.
.@adviserdavid Cursing style question: Should it be guarandamntee, guaran-damn-tee or guaran-dam-tee? Autocorrect not helpful in this tweet.
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) April 9, 2016
Students have another advantage that may be even more important: You are natives to the mobile world. However well veteran journalists or media leaders have adapted to this world, we are still immigrants. I’ve adapted well enough that at my son’s wedding last fall, one of the items on the scavenger-hunt game was to get a picture of me using my cellphone. But mobile is my second language. You are more fluent than I am in speaking and practicing mobile. It comes more naturally to you and it’s more deeply embedded in your individual personalities and your collective culture.
— OHIO Scripps College (@ScrippsOU) April 8, 2016
I carved a valuable professional niche for myself when I became an early user of Twitter in the journalism world. In 2008 I was livetweeting breaking news and requiring my staff at the Cedar Rapids Gazette to learn and use Twitter to cover events, connect with sources and report the news. I could be a leader in the use of Twitter for journalism because it didn’t have a particular user base and culture and because everyone using Twitter was kind of trying to figure it out together. In fact, college students weren’t strong early users of Twitter because Facebook at that time was the dominant social platform in college.
But social media patterns and platforms change swiftly. When Snapchat came along four years later, I was a Twitter veteran, but Snapchat wasn’t as good a fit. Moms and dads and prospective employers were all on Facebook, so while it had become the social-media giant, Facebook didn’t provide a place for kids to be kids away from the prying, disapproving eyes of parents and bosses. But Snapchat did. It provided a way to send funny or intimate or irreverent or immature photos just to a single friend or a group of friends, and the photo vanished quickly, so it wouldn’t surface inappropriately later. The early users were nearly all college students or even younger.
As a professional journalist, I couldn’t be an effective early adopter. First of all, Snapchat didn’t start with an obvious media use for news or advertising, and that was my social media focus. And for an old guy like me, being an early adopter of Snapchat meant I’d need to be sharing snaps with people younger than my children, and how creepy is that? I needed to stand back and watch the development of Snapchat by others. And if that sounds like excuse-making, it shows that even the supposed pioneers of social media in my generation are having trouble keeping up with your generation.
I can’t tell you what the future of student media should be, but I want to lead a discussion tonight of how to develop a culture of experimentation in your student media organizations, so you can find some solutions together, and maybe I and my peers in professional media organizations can follow you in finding the path to prosperity.
That was maybe the first 20-30 minutes of the keynote session. Then I had the students and faculty at the tables around the room discuss some questions for about eight minutes. Then we debriefed some of the tables for another 15-20 minutes. I cover the discussion questions in a companion post, and I’ve invited participants to contribute guest posts that I will publish if anyone submits them.
Here’s how I wrapped up, adapting a closing theme I’ve used before to the student media audience:
I want to wrap up by returning to the point where I started, discussing excellent journalism. On my third day as editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette, June 12, 2008, our community was flooded in what was at that time the worst natural disaster in our country since Hurricane Katrina, in terms of property damage. Much of Cedar Rapids was under water. My news staff had to cover the biggest story in the history of our community, but roads were cut off. Our building was without power. The flooding reached the street in front of our building, and our sewers were backing up in the basement, but we were able to stay in the building and keep working on backup generators.
The obstacles were huge, but they didn’t matter. Our photojournalists covered the flood in boats and chest waders. Reporters found alternate routes to news scenes when flooded roads blocked the most direct routes. We found respirator masks so journalists could safely enter moldy buildings after the waters receded. We kicked ass on that story.
And it wasn’t just the newsroom. The circulation department needed to figure out which homes were evacuated and which weren’t. They needed to find alternate routes to deliver papers to the homes that were still occupied. The ad staff had to learn which businesses that had scheduled ads were under water and needed to cancel them. The facilities staff performed heroically, pumping flood water out of our basement and finding portable toilets, hand sanitizer and a generator big enough to power two buildings.
— Megan Henry (@megankhenry) April 8, 2016
The big story is in the DNA of every journalist and every news organization. When the big story hits, we’re going to get the paper out and distributed. We’re going to stay online and on the air. We’re going to get the story, no matter the obstacles. We climb over the obstacles or burrow under them. We find a way around. We smash through them. We leap tall buildings with a single bound (remember, Clark Kent is a reporter). We turn obstacles into the war stories of success, not excuses for failure.
— Hans K. Meyer (@OhJProf) April 8, 2016
Well, the collapse of traditional media is the flood we face in student media and professional media. Mobile media are the generators and boats and respirators and waders we need to turn this disaster into a war story, rather than an excuse. When someone writes the story of how we saved journalism – and it will be a hell of a story – I think student journalists and student media organizations can be the heroes. But you can’t get there by following the people who are drowning.
Please, on behalf of generations of journalists who established the traditions and principles of journalism, on behalf of all the journalists who inspired you to pursue this career, I beg you: Lead us to safety and prosperity.
— Megan Henry (@megankhenry) April 8, 2016
This post is not an exact transcript of my actual speech, though I’ll add a video later if the conference organizers post one. Here’s how I prepared my address and this post:
- I wrote an original draft, as if I would be reading from a script.
- I rewrote it a few times.
- I condensed a six-page script to about a page of notes.
- I rehearsed it 2-3 times on the drive from Columbus to Athens Thursday evening (obviously without referring to the notes) and once more in my hotel room.
- I put the notes on my cellphone.
- I delivered the presentation with only occasional glances at my notes. I ad-libbed some things that weren’t in the notes, forgot some things and mixed up the order. But I think it worked better than reading the script.
- I edited the script into a blog post, trying (but I’m sure failing) to remember what I changed on the fly and cutting out most of what I think I didn’t say, leaving in a few things I wish I’d remembered, and probably not remembering most of the ad-libs.
So this blog post is what I sort of think I might have or should have said.