For four days this weekend, the 4,500 visiting students at the Journalism Education Association's national conference turned downtown into the biggest spectacle of naive hope in Kansas City outside of opening day at Kauffman Stadium.
As a professional journalist, I considered this a call to assemble the Pitch Action News Team. If left to the daily newsmen, these impressionable children would be forced into unarmed combat with a monument to human sickness. Bitter columnists who actually worry about bloggers and drink, not for fun, but to steady the involuntary tremors. The 43-year-old fetuses curled into protective balls against the next round of layoffs. Dead-eyed girls with mustaches sullenly meditating on biological clocks and toaster cozies, their mouths slick and shiny with drool. Someone had to let them know that this job could be fun! To my great joy, they didn't need me at all.
Here is what I learned after spending a few hours on the conference floor: Despite almost five years of journalists publicly flogging themselves for their horrible and numerous failures, a lot of kids are convinced that the industry has done a good job transitioning to the Internet, and that it has a future. Ha! Fooled you!
"I mean clearly newspapers saw the Internet coming, and they've adjusted to it really well," said one high school senior from Minneapolis, who was actually walking around the conference floor with a pretty girl and appeared to interact competently with the people around him. "I can go be a garbage man and yeah, I'll probably make more money, but then I'm a garbage man every day. I'd rather do something I love and have some fun. I mean you're writing. Yeah, there's no money in it, but you're writing for a living and that still sounds pretty sweet."
Then there's this nugget -- even though you learn almost nothing in J-school and your future success will rely on the literacy rate of the general public -- most of the journalism schools are actually seeing an increase in applications.
"We're getting more an more students applying for journalism majors over the last few years," said one University of Iowa rep. "But you're also seeing more of them double-major. They'll mix a journalism degree with a business degree, so it makes them more marketable. Or they'll mix the traditional journalism skills with more computer science and new media skills."
Even the most pessimistic just saw journalism as a hobby and not a career. "I think journalism is going to be around, I just think it's something that'll be more an extra-curricular," said one girl, a junior from Illinois. "If you want to make a living at it I'm sure some people will; it just won't be a lot of money."
To be fair, at least one boy from Texas did identify a week spot with journalism's future.
"I worry about people still reading. People are getting stupider and stupider. It seems like you can be a really smart person and be a good journalist, but most people would rather watch TMZ or read Perez Hilton or whatever. It's not so much journalism, it's everybody else."
Out of the mouths of babes, people. You are the problem.