Former Philadelphia newspaperman George Miller’s passionate take on encouraging students to enter the profession caught my attention for how seamlessly he weaves in the real-life stories of experienced journalists, some of whom like myself are no longer working at major news organizations.
There are successful tales of second careers, and sobering examples in contrast, including this one from a laid-off Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who tried going at it alone for a time with a web-based news service:
“When my venture didn’t pan out, I had to reconsider my life in journalism after more than 20 years in the field and what had been a pretty wonderful career.”
As I continued to read Miller’s piece, I wondered why the wisdom and advice we’re so eager to impart upon college students couldn’t also be rechanneled in some fashion to 40- and 50-somethings who still want to practice journalism, but require some new skills and motivation. When Miller asserts that there’s “never been a more inspiring time to be an aspiring journalist,” I wished he’d expand the definition.
I may not be an eager-beaver student reporter any more, and don’t need any rah-rah lectures on why journalism can be such a great career choice. I know deep in my bones that it is because I have experienced it for 25 years.
But in many ways I’m still an aspiring journalist. I aspire to be involved in new ways of doing the news. I aspire to take my talents and energies and apply them beyond what I’ve done before. I aspire to blend the best aspects of the print journalism tradition with the more freewheeling digital enterprise that’s transforming this profession and our culture.
I’m not ready to retire and I don’t see myself as being a transitional figure just because I’m in mid-career. Hell, I think I’m in the prime of my career.
So how can folks like us get the direction we need to learn and grow as journalism evolves online? In lieu of any loosely organized mid-career training options (outside of in-house programs), there’s the self-directed kind. I regard myself as an undergraduate again as I read online journalism education blogs like this one and this one and learn about new journalism ventures that have me encouraged about the future.
Those of us with a few years under our belts and a few more ahead ought to consider ourselves perpetual students. There are terrific online training courses that are generally free and available on demand. So are a wide array of other resources here and here.
More than anything, I’d like to see the zeal directed toward aspiring young journalists also be applied to aspiring mid-career journalists. Perhaps something similar to the Knight News Challenge by which applicants suggest dynamic, compelling ways to retrain and support journalists who may not have grown up in the digital age but want to contribute to it.
That’s a contest I’d like to enter.