How the New Media Frontier is like Learning to Ride a Bike: Notes from the College Journalism Conference in NYC

By Kevin Griffin

City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, ManhattanNew York cannot be described in words, but here is my best shot: New York is like riding a bike without training wheels for the first time. Once you’re there, you are not quite sure how you did it and you pray that it never ends.

And before you know it, the flight attendant is knocking you off your bike with a “Welcome to Milwaukee, and thanks for flying AirTran.”

Last month I experienced New York for the first time in my life. Me and two fellow sophomores, Marissa Evans and Alex Engler, spent three days of our fall break in NYC as part of The University of North Carolina’s “Getting Started in Business News,” college journalism conference. The conference selected 40 students nationwide through an application process, to participate in three days of newsroom tours, networking, roundtable discussions and formal job interviews. The conference showcased prominent business journalists and internship coordinators from various news outlets as well as journalism professors and students nationwide.

Now we just had to get there.

So with our years of combined experience learning to live and travel independently, Alex, Marissa and I were to leave Schroeder hall on the morning of Thursday October, 21, and by 6 pm that same day we were to end up at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism to check in to the conference.

We overcame a one hour “ground delay” in Milwaukee, an airport shuttle ride comparable to a NASCAR video game, roughly seven lucky guesses on what street we should turn on, a hotel that almost lost a reservation and a frantic rush to figure out what a metro pass was (a subway train ticket).

But we got there.

It didn’t take me long to realize that in New York, things are a lot different. Lights are brighter, buildings are bigger, people walk faster, and yes, they are much more rude, which somehow only adds to the city’s charm.

Diederich College of Communication students at the college journalism conference in New York City, October 2010.Thursday’s check-in was at Manhattan’s City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, dubbed by the locals as CUNY. We made it to check-in early and as the three of us were directed through the double glass doors of CUNY’s newsroom I took a deep breath and tightened my tie. For the next two days, it was time to get down to business.

Thursday night, after checking in, we heard from Allan Sloan, a senior editor for Fortune Magazine, who spoke on the future of business journalism. Sloan expressed an opinion that would become the theme of the conference.

Sloan told the room of conference-goers, professors and local students that he would give anything to be where we are: Learning to become journalists during what he called the “most exciting times journalism has ever seen.”

Sloan’s comments stuck with me for the rest of the conference. By all of my estimations, I am a student in a field suffering from an identity crisis, learning how to write for newspapers that may not even exist by the time I’m out of college. And finally someone was telling me what I have been wishing to hear for years: that I am very wrong.

On Friday, former Forbes editor Carl Lavin echoed Sloan’s enthusiasm saying that the Internet is not journalism’s problem but rather its savior. I was further enthused Friday afternoon after sitting in on a session titled “New Entrants in Business Journalism,” which featured four representatives from four different media outlets talking about the new age of journalism. Elizabeth MacBride, president of RIABiz.com, spoke on how she has turned her business news website into a profit machine by ditching print and only publishing online.

In the same session, Jonah Bloom, former editor of Advertising Age works with publications that have done the same thing as RIABiz and ditched the print model entirely. Bloom said the revolution of online-only news is a thrilling development for journalists and is what could save many news publications.

Earlier on Friday we heard from internship coordinators at Bloomberg News, Thomson Reuters, Dow Jones Newswires, The Associated Press and American City Business Journals in a session titled “Tips from the Internship Coordinators.” The session gave valuable advice from experts on how to find internships and jobs in business journalism. The panel reminded us to always know what you want from an internship, know what you can bring to an internship and just as importantly, know everything you can about the company you are applying to.

Intermittent with the day’s sessions were previously scheduled 15-minute interviews with two media outlets of our choice. We chose from a group of nine news publications including Dow Jones Newswires, Associated Press, Thomson Reuters and others.

I was lucky enough to land interviews (by shear luck of the draw) with my first two choices, Dow Jones Newswires and Thomson Reuters.

Alex, Marissa and I were in a unique situation for the interviews. With the exception of maybe 3 other students, we were the youngest students at the conference. Most were seniors in college and several were a few years into graduate school.

Sophomores in college weren’t going to dazzle our interviewers with our experience. But the fun part was that we could try.

“You’re only a sophomore,” was the phrase that opened up both of my interviews.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Well we’re not looking to hire sophomores,” said both coordinators.

However both lent me the chance to go through the interview as if I was looking to be hired out of college. They went through my clips and resume and asked questions, as well as told me what my strengths and weaknesses were in interviewing. Both offered me their contact information for later down the road, and both gave me information on summer internships suited to my liking.

In addition to making contacts with internship coordinators and business professionals, I made the strongest connections with fellow students. Despite the age gap, I quickly came to find that we were all part of the same struggle. We are all trying to write for the rest of our lives.

I will never forget my senior year of high school when I was writing for the school newspaper and I began to realize that journalism is suffering from an identity crisis. And every time I turned to someone in the field, or heard an analyst talk about newspapers, they all struggled with trying to figure out just what to do about the dying newspaper.

Yet after three days in New York, hearing some of the brightest professionals and students in the field I came to realize: there is nothing about journalism that is dying.

Over the grainy intercom the flight attendant half-heartedly mumbled: “Welcome to Milwaukee and thanks for flying AirTran.” That’s when I felt like I was falling off my bike.

So as we were being taxied to our gate on a Saturday night in Milwaukee I began to think, “Do I feel any differently now then when I was on this same flight taking off three days earlier?”

And I absolutely did.

As I shuffled through my backpack full of business cards, Fortune magazines and a camera full of pictures, I was able to put my finger on just what exactly made me feel different.

Every journalist will tell you that they write because at some point in their life, they were inspired to do so. Whether it was because of a book they read, a story they covered or another writer that did the convincing; all writing is sparked by inspiration.

For three days I was able to hear from some of the most prominent people in the field tell me that journalism is at its most exciting time in centuries and I was going to be a part of it.

How is that for inspiration?

So maybe I wasn’t falling off my bike, maybe this was that first time when the bike wobbles left to right and then smoothens out. The time when you think you are seconds away from a fall, but somehow, just keep on riding.

Kevin Griffin is a sophomore majoring in Journalism at the Diederich College of Communication.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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