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The world still needs print journalism

by The Concordian April 5, 2011

When I told my family and friends that I was enrolling in a journalism program, I was met with a few concerned looks. The common belief seems to be that the industry is crumbling. But that’s not exactly true. Yes, many newspapers have fallen by the wayside, but new markets continue to emerge and traditional outlets are in a process of reinvention. What better time to join an industry than during a period of transformation?

As journalism dives headfirst into the digital age, one of its fundamental media is unfortunately losing its appeal. No more than five years ago, every single student in Concordia’s graduate diploma program, an intensive one-year professional-training curriculum, signed up for the magazine writing elective course. This year, enrollment was so low the class was almost cut.

“I was shocked,” said Linda Kay, chair of the journalism department and a writing professor.

“It’s an important class because good writers are cherished at any medium.’’

Kay believes the decline in the number of students is a sign of the times. With the growth of the Internet, a premium has been placed on technical skills in the marketplace.

Jennifer Charlebois, a diploma student who was on the fence about the writing course, confirms Kay’s suspicions.

“I felt like you could be the best writer in the world, but if you didn’t know basic HTML, an employer would pass you over,” she said.

Professor Barry Lazar, who teaches the magazine writing course, believes words are not getting a fair shake in our techno-crazed environment.

“People think of the Internet in terms of images, but all those algorithms are looking for words,” he said.

Lazar and Kay are quick to point out the misconception that print is dying. In fact, magazine circulation for specialty publications is increasing and a study released last week by the Newspaper Audience Databank found readership for print versions of newspapers, including the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, grew modestly in 2010.

Writing is the basis for all journalism. A well-structured story is essential for a web video, a radio report or a feature article.

But long-form written journalism, more than any other medium, brings the audience into a deeper level of engagement and understanding.

“I’ve missed many metro stops because I’ve been immersed in an article,” admitted Kay.

As we drown in a sea of information we need more life preservers. Magazine articles and feature stories provide the necessary analysis and background to navigate the flood. Good writing keeps us afloat amid a soundbite culture. While the market demands that journalists be multi-talented, it does not mean that writing is any less important. Lazar feels that his course and others like it are an environment in which success does not depend on technical expertise.

“Things grow in an oasis. It becomes a place of nourishment, a quality that comes from simply reading and writing,’’ he said.

“That is something any good journalist needs, whether they consider themselves a writer or not.”

 

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