August 25, 2006

Why I Didn't End Up a Journalist

At the end of my high school days, and throughout college, I was sure I was going to end up a reporter. I didn't know just what I thought I'd be covering, and at times my whims floated from covering baseball to becoming a technology reporter. While attending UC Berkeley, I covered a number of beats for the Daily Californian, including crime, the UC Regents and city council, and majored in Mass Communications, as well as Political Science. So what happened?

The Internet happened, and the Internet changed everything.

Alongside my writing efforts at the Daily Cal, I was also the paper's Online Editor, and helped the Web site grow from its earliest stages from 1996 to 1998. The site lives on today, but in a much different state, of course. But working on the site and seeing how Web journalism was rapidly extinguishing the one-time glory of newspapers, I no longer was wowed by the idea of being an ink-stained wretch toiling away for the San Jose Mercury News or MacWorld, as I believed the medium had to make a dramatic change to stay relevant.

After my time at the Daily Cal, I derived two versions of the resume - one for becoming a reporter, and a second, for becoming a Webmaster. In 1998, you can only guess which one gained a lot of interest, even for a student without a degree (yet), and which one didn't. By October of 1998, a month and a half into my senior year at UC Berkeley, I was commuting over the Bay Bridge to Burlingame every day working at an Internet startup, and the dreams of being a reporter were being replaced instead with the hopes of helping  a new company grow. Now, instead of calling companies and people to hear their side of things, I was on the other side - able to make news and not just follow it. Meanwhile, news media on the Internet has grown dramatically, eclipsing the one time leadership of traditional papers.

One gets the feeling that traditional papers are still very leery about the Internet. They are very afraid that their one-time cash cow, classified ads, is going away, replaced by CraigsList and eBay. And by the time their stories are published, the news cycle has already left them in the dust. So you are seeing an increased emphasis on newspapers' online reporters to get the story out early and continue updating it, if simply to keep pace with more nimble outlets. I read the San Francisco Chronicle and Mercury News online, but primarily to keep updated on the A's more than anything else. Especially in the Silicon Valley, technology news doesn't go their way first, and circulations are getting hammered.

An interesting discussion on that subject can be found in The Economist today, in a piece titled "More Media, Less News". As they write, "Newspapers are making progress with the internet, but most are still too timid, defensive or high-minded." Simply put, if they don't find a way to compete with blogs and Digg and news aggregators, they're toast. I'm glad I went the way I did, even if it meant changing the dream, just a little bit.

Listening to ''Nautical Bodies (Original Mix)'', by Paul Oakenfold (Play Count: 8)

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