“Hi, I’m Hayden, nice to meet you,” she said in a rush.
We had never met and we had three minutes to connect. She is a 20-year-old journalism student and in her eyes, I’m certain, I was some old guy with gray hair and a dubious understanding of her world.
“What do you see yourself doing when you graduate?” I asked.
“I like to write, and I’m passionate about the environment,” she said. She hurriedly ticked off websites she helped create, social media skills and videos she produced for non-profits. She mentioned an internship coming up in Colorado. Then it was time to part.
I like talking with journalism students because it gives me insight about the future. This “speed-networking event,” as the University of Iowa called it, had 37 journalism students spending just three minutes meeting each with two dozen journalism professionals one-on-one. When time’s up, they shift to the next person and tell their story again.
Just a few years ago, at another of these events, students talked about their interest in sports journalism. It seemed everyone wanted to work at ESPN.com and produce viral videos. Not anymore.
A sampling of what else I heard this time:
“I don’t mind taking an advocacy position if it’s something I care about.”
“Journalism is broken and I want to help get it back to what it was.” (And what was that?)
“I’m also getting a certificate in public policy and I want to be involved in political change.”
“Right now I’m managing social media accounts for two businesses.” (Graduation still a year away.)
Youthful idealism? Definitely. But there’s also a new tone.
Not a single person mentioned “dying legacy media.” Journalism is important once again to these students in a way it wasn’t a couple of years ago. The political climate is only part of it. Their biases and passions have grown up on social media and they are unapologetic about it. They want to inform, but also influence. They seem to almost intuitively have a sense of how to engage. (These are not “dim bulb” students, either, who couldn’t cut it in math or science.)
They aren’t talking about “working in television” or “writing for a magazine.” They believe their message will get out one way or another. The journalism they want to be involved with is different than when I graduated in a post-Watergate era. These students have the same idealism as many of my classmates did, but it’s not about being objective or getting a scoop. It’s about getting their story told and letting the chips fall.
Of course, age and things like needing a paycheck will intervene in the years ahead. But it’s good to see passion for a profession held in such low esteem by so many. A professor friend of mine told me that – just like in the 1970s – enrollment in journalism schools is rising again. Despite fake news and broken business models, the future of journalism may be brighter than we can imagine. Different, but brighter.