How do you speak honestly from experience and not shatter someone's career aspirations? That was my challenge today when a guy with whom I worked doing the Census called and asked if he could interview me about the state of newspapers.
He's a journalism major at VCU and his homework assignment was to talk to a past or present employee of the Times Dispatch about the future of print. Future of the daily paper? Grim, at best.
But I listened and tried to provide thoughtful answers to his assignment's questions. When I admitted that I expect the daily to disappear in our lifetime, his disappointment was immediate. "Aww, that's really sad," he said, surprising me because I couldn't imagine that he started his day reading the paper.
But it wasn't the ritual he feared the loss of, it was his future. "That's my major." We talked about journalism as an online-only format and I could hear his dream of life as an old-school newspaperman fading away.
One of the questions pertained to how the newsroom has changed with so many layoffs and after listening to me and taking notes, he summed it up. "So we need to be a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to reporting?" he asked. I could almost hear the implied question: even the boring stuff? Well, yes...assuming you want the job badly enough.
But because he is a student and his frame of reference is the limited world in which he's lived, it wasn't long before he tied the issue of print's demise to what he knows. "Isn't it ironic that print's dying at the same time that everybody's e-mailing and texting? We're writing more than talking but the newspaper's going away. I think that's a topic for a paper...or wait, an article!"
And it may be, albeit one that would end up online rather than in the newspaper. I just didn't want to break Scoop's heart by telling him that.