What should I tell youngsters who want to study journalism?
In a few hours I'll be on a plane to my alma mater, Indiana University, where I'll be meeting with the journalism school's alumni board and giving a speech to the Indiana Collegiate Press Association.
The topic: Why You're Not Crazy to Still Want to be a Journalist.
The idea came from a joke I cracked while talking to one of the staffers at the journalism school, but the sentiment was a good one. A tough argument to make in times like these, where two newspapers have closed in the past month, another teeters on the brink, most major media companies are downsizing and one study predicts 20 percent of newspaper journalists who were working in 2001 are now on the street.
But I think young journalists have a way foreward in these perilous times if they keep a few things in mind:
It's a cool job. I'm no Pulitzer winner, but even I have hung out with Jon Bon Jovi and the governor of New Jersey -- in one day -- interviewed Bruce Springsteen in a dressing room bathroom and watched Sex and the City film one of TV series' last scenes. This gig gives you a front-row seat to history, and there's no better way to spend your time.
Change is the new normal -- I'm not sure digital technology will ever stop disrupting media. A consultant once told me that Silicon Valley executives accept that their business changes so quickly that a product that may be the backbone of their business today could be dead in 18 months. Media's pace is accelerating to the point where we all may need to consider: Change is now a constant.
Journalists may need several jobs across several platforms to survive -- Already, a growing number of journalists have been forced to piece together a living by working various part-time or consultant positions across a variety of companies. This may be the way many more reporters earn a living in the future, because one job may not pay enough. Which means . . .
Future journalists must be more entrepreneurial -- The idea of settling at one big media outlet for many years is also shrinking. Journalists will likely need to be more responsible for their own public brand, using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to assemble groups of fans and sources that travel with them from job to job.
What I really fear: That the industry will change so much that these young journalists won't have a shot at the kind of job and compensation that folks like me have been lucky enough to earn. But I'm rooting for them -- and me.