When I was invited to deliver a keynote during the National College Journalism Convention in Los Angeles Feb. 28, I wanted most of all to encourage young people not to listen to dumb arguments against choosing journalism. We need good people in journalism. And while it’s not an easy business, there are jobs. In fact, it’s hard to fill some jobs in my newsroom and I hear the same from other news leaders. Instead of telling young people not to go into journalism, we should be telling them how to excel. Here’s the text of the speech.
Hello and thanks for inviting me to speak. I’m delighted to be here with people who’ll be running the news business in the years ahead. I’ll say I knew you when.
I’m not doing a slide presentation – just talking. But if you’re inclined I’d love for you to tweet responses or reactions to anything I say – I’m @melaniesill.
Like many of you I found my first formative newsroom experience in college. Mine was at The Daily Tar Heel in North Carolina, where I did reporting and editing and even got assigned to cover the 1980 presidential election in Washington.
I went up there with a colleague and we divvied up the election night celebrations. I got Ronald Reagan and John Anderson, who was an independent candidate. He got Jimmy Carter, who was the incumbent.
Reagan won, of course. I had a fantastic time shuttling between the two celebrations and got back at 2:30 am to my friend’s grandmother’s apartment. I shared a cab with a famous reporter from the Washington Post, and felt very big-time.
I was elated. But my colleague had left me a note about how sad he was that Carter had lost. I knew then I was bound to be a journalist and not a political partisan.
So yes, I’ve been at this work awhile. You’re just getting going. Yet we’re on the same quest.
We think journalism matters — and we’re seeking the path forward.
The fact that you’re here tells me that you’re optimists. You have to be, to tolerate all the people telling you to get out of the business before you’ve even gotten into it.
I can’t give you the magic vision for how this is going to work out financially.
But I want to seize this moment to cheer for your careers in journalism.
You’ll have other options, and good ones. These days, all kinds of people are looking for smart, hardworking people who know how to tell stories. Product companies. Health insurers. The government. Political campaigns. Public relations. Marketing.
So yes, your skills do transfer. You’re smart enough to go to law school or technology or politics and probably into many other fields as well.
But back to my message: Don’t do any of that, at least not right away. First, if you love it, choose journalism.
Journalism is a thing. It’s a thing worth doing. It’s a service that’s needed in our society and in our democracy.