Last night, the Undergraduate Communication Society of UCSD hosted a panel event for college students, “Print Journalism in a Digital Age.” On the panel sat four very esteemed guests, all with different experiences and success stories in the media industry. It consisted of Tim Sullivan, one of the Sports Columnists for the Union Tribune, along with Lauren Steussy, Chris Cantore, and Jessica Kline, all of them respected in various sectors of the media industry. Sitting side by side up there, the expressions of the four ranged on a spectrum from pleasantly enthusiastic to jaded, which would also be an adequate summary of their attitudes toward the future of print journalism. It was a touchy subject, as it involved critically analyzing their own work in a field which many predict will be rendered obsolete in the next few years. Tim, the eldest of the bunch, made his cynical disposition for himself and his niche clear, yet ultimately voiced a hopeful vision for the next generation’s take on his beloved trade.
|Image source: Union Tribune|
During the panel, Tim gave a testimonial of his fantastic run with print journalism as well as his deeply fond affinity toward the traditional roots of reporting. He had taken a very old-school approach to his career, attending an established and highly esteemed journalism program at the University of Missouri. From there, he worked for 25 years as a sports news reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, until finally landing his current columnist position in San Diego through a friend’s connection. Throughout his career, he had received numerous accolades in his field, and his passion for it was undoubtedly voiced throughout the panel. However, he made sure to constantly mention how he was from a completely “different era,” even beginning his spiel with a joke about his personal ties to the Gutenberg printing press. Tim’s account took a notably dramatic shift when he began talking about the present state of journalism, revealing that funding and circulation of the Union Tribune had moved to “where the eyeballs are moving.”
“Radio was killed by TV, and the internet completely smothered that,” Sullivan stated indignantly, “Pretty soon the internet will kill all media.”
Joined by another considered journalistic old-timer on the panel, Chris Cantore, he too had been embittered by what he called the “destruction of an industry.” Tim’s resentment for how the internet had swooped in and completely changed what he was accustomed to was undeniable, yet both had ultimately realized that there was little to nothing they could do to stop it.
“I’m trying to hang on for a few more years until retirement,” said Sullivan, “It’s either adapt, or get out. And I’m at an age where I am too old to adapt, so I’m hoping to get out when I can.”
However, just because Sullivan accepted his situation, did not mean that he did not understand the language current times and how to use it. In our generation, where social media trafficking is the new forefront to news circulation, he would be the first to acknowledge the usefulness of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and popular blog sites. In fact, it was he who encouraged and advised his own daughter a way to gain revenue from her rather specific Tumblr blog consisting of reblogged “pictures of cute babies.” By finding a way to monetize her influence in a small niche market on the internet, he was able to earn her $100 dollars in ten days, and gain her over 320 Twitter followers practically over night, proving his savvyness still remains in a technological age.
Not only this, but Sullivan still had hopes that the roots of journalism, from the creative process to the public’s wish to stay connected, will always have a place in society. He referenced how the 24-year old reporter, Sarah Ganim, just recently won a Pulitzer Prize using classic investigative reporting techniques, and considered it as evidence that there is still room for those who have the same passion that he did so many years ago. He understood that his job, as well as others in his position, will not be safe from the internet-takeover and is just a matter of time before the web will push everything out. But he does not see this as the end of journalism itself, simply an old way of thinking about it.
“I know that everyone is forecasting that the sky is falling, but there is still a need for good reporting and good storytelling,” Tim advised in his final words to the student audience, “You may have to create things yourself now, but don’t be discouraged.”