Please note: There is a long version and a TL;DR version. If you’re looking at this wall of text and thinking, “Just get to the point already!” then I suggest clicking the TL;DR. tab below.
Now, after working in newspapers for nearly 10 years and in every capacity, from writing to copy editing, designing to managing, and even crossing the barrier between the editorial and advertising sides a couple times (editorial is truly where it’s at), I consider myself well-versed in newspapers as a whole.
There is one question that remains unanswered, though, even by the pros:
Where will newspapers stand in our ever-growing digital future?
There are arguments to be made from an optimist’s viewpoint as well as a pessimist’s (both of which I identify with), but the realist’s stance is that print media — not just newspapers — is expensive to produce, only allows a finite amount of content, and it lacks the immediate sharing of information that consumers expect of their media today.
When this question first hit me, to be honest, it felt a bit like an existential crisis. After all, I had worked hard to lay the groundwork for a career in newspapers, which was a big part of my identity, but I couldn’t ignore the writing on the wall.
Now, I must emphasize that I’m not saying the future of journalism looks bleak — quite the contrary, I strongly believe in the importance of the press, and the strength behind “the power of the pen” still applies. I am more optimistic about journalism than I am about most things in society.
But looking back again at how my love for journalism grew, it actually began online. My best friend in junior high had introduced me to Live Journal, but because we believed we were rebels, we ditched Live Journal for Dead Journal. For a lot of people in my morgue (a.k.a. friends list), Dead Journal was basically what Tumblr is today — pretty pictures, sad poetry, a dash of social justice outrage, diary entries. My own Dead Journal included those things, too, but I had one more entry type: research.
Because my parents also believed I was a rebel, I spent a majority of my teenage years grounded, so I dedicated my free time to the internet. These were the days of dial-up, but lucky me, I had more free time than I knew what to do with! So I researched. I learned the difference between the Google and Yahoo! search engines (an index and a directory, respectively), and I used them each to their full advantage. Then, I’d basically write a report on the topic I had researched and publish it on my Dead Journal. I loved it.
Eventually, I wasn’t satisfied with this hobby unless I could better the presentation of my content. Again with the search engines, I learned how to write the tags for embedding pictures and formatting fonts. Somehow, I even got into the actual code for my entire Dead Journal and learned how to change the background, add borders and colors, and even create custom sections. This is how I learned HTML.
The same happened when I switched to MySpace, and again when I switched to Blogger. When I switched to Facebook and learned they don’t allow that kind of customization, I was incensed and swore I’d never use Facebook (oh, how times have changed!).
Throughout all of this, even though I didn’t fully realize the importance at the time, I had learned some valuable coding skills — literally valuable, since I was selling my Dead Journal/MySpace customization skills for $10 each job.
Fast forward to college, when I was toward the end of my degree program. I had been working as the editor of the student newspaper, and I successfully managed the full redesign and development of our newspaper’s website so that we could include the television and radio programs along with our news stories — a full integration of the entire mass media department. Digital media was bringing everything together, and it felt new and exciting. I still favored print because I enjoyed being able to hold it in my hands and carry it around with me (no, we didn’t have smartphones back then), but I loved the immediacy of being able to share the campus news with my parents via email instead of bringing newspapers home with me on break.
Oh, and analytics. Oh, the analytics! I spent hours combing through the charts, the stats, the numbers of who visited our website, what they looked at, how long they stayed. It was so much more interesting than counting the leftover newspapers at the end of each week and basing our readership numbers on estimations of how many picked-up newspapers actually got read.
Here’s the thing, though: Coding was a hobby of mine, one I could eventually convince people to pay me for as a freelancer, but it had to take a backseat to my newspaper career. And as I realized that newspapers were struggling in the age of digital media and the salary freezes were to continue indefinitely, and as I watched copy desks and advertising design departments get laid off, and as I learned that those jobs were getting outsourced, and as I saw my student loan interest rates keep going up while my monthly payments never even touched the principal, one thought became all-consuming: I’ve got to get out of here.
So I quickly earned a TEFL certificate and took off for Asia, as far away as I could get. I taught English in South Korea, went backpacking through South East Asia, traveled around Japan, and generally just got my space from the real world. I continued freelancing while abroad, using my coding skills to build a few websites for businesses and help manage a website for an expat publication. When I returned to the U.S. about two and a half years later, I briefly considered breaking into a journalism-related field, like marketing or graphic design, but after thinking long and hard, the obvious answer suddenly became very clear: I should give web development a serious try.
So here I am, working in the newspaper industry during the day and spending my nights and weekends coding, and I’m loving every second of both. Leaving my current newspaper job will be a bittersweet moment for me, but I look forward to a challenging, engaging, growing career in coding, which I believe will be my ticket to learning something new every day as well as indulging in a new hobby — publishing a zine (because I can’t not have print media in my life). Oh, and paying off those pesky student loans, of course.
If you read this far, thank you so much!
P.S. Here’s a doggo on a computer.