The faces of the future
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Bill Barth
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             I am in the process of doing something very few daily newspaper editors can match during these troubled days.
             Hiring two new journalists.
             Most journalists are not coming in the door, they’re going out the door. Some surveys I have seen place the number of job eliminations at newsrooms in the neighborhood of 10,000 over the past two years.
            So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we hung out the “help wanted” sign.
            But here’s the latest dispatch from the Great Newspaper Battlefield.
            Astonishingly, there are still lots of young people who dream of being reporters and editors. No, they are not starry-eyed children of the clouds, oblivious to the financial challenges facing the industry. They are some of the smartest, up-to-date, well-connected people you can imagine. They are bursting with enthusiasm for what many are telling us is a deeply embattled profession, and they are determined to shoulder their way into the fight.

            The two journalists vacating positions at my paper have decided to go back to campus for grad school, to develop skills that may help them become more marketable in another field. I respect that. Journalism has never been for everybody, and that statement rings truer today than ever.
            I told the two friends who are leaving our newsroom that, for them, the grad school decision undoubtedly is a good one. They are enthused about striking out in a new direction.
            In fact, the discussions I had with both my departing journalists, and those applying to take their spots, were quite similar.
             I said this is not the time to be uncertain about the profession. Unless one is a true believer — someone who guzzled down the Kool-Aid — the smart move is to seek a different career path. There’s nothing to regret, or to be ashamed of, over making a career pivot. Every person’s first obligation is to do what’s right for himself, and any dependent family members.
            Those who choose to stay will need every ounce of drive and courage they can find within their heart. The outcome of this fight is uncertain, but those who choose to wage it need to take a no-quarter, no-surrender attitude into the fray.
             I am buoyed by this unexpected opportunity to see the fresh faces — smart, eager faces — ready to pick up the pen.
             Some of the people I’ve met in the recruitment process possess the gray-matter wherewithal to be lawyers, or doctors, or engineers or Wall Street investment bankers (where the real money’s to be found). Instead, they want to change the world, one sentence at a time. I am moved by their commitment.
             In the long run, after all, it’s not the tons of iron filling pressrooms that will make a difference. Nor is it the scores of motor route drivers or youth carriers delivering ink and paper to doorsteps.
            It is the content, painstakingly researched and written by smart kids who believe in what they’re doing, that has the potential to challenge society’s preconceptions and help light the path to tomorrow.
            Whether these young people do that on paper, on the Web, over wireless telephones, on the Kindle — who really cares? It’s not the medium, it’s the message, at least in the world we are creating as we leave behind the comfortable and familiar.
            Those who are writing the obituaries for journalism should reconsider. I’m betting these smart young folks I am meeting, and others like them, will find a way to reinvent the medium so the message survives to keep prodding America toward a more perfect union.
            As for gray-hairs like me, well, I like ink-on-paper and feel reasonably certain it will be available for quite awhile longer. But I’m less worried now about what comes next. That’s a good thing, for all of us in this information-dependent free country.