Friday, February 13, 2009

Journalists of the Future: Small Children, Prisoners, Hollywood Starlets

BOULDER, Colorado -- The sky is apparently falling on print journalism, as publications massively trim staff or shut their doors completely. But there is still a vital need for journalists to keep an eye on the powers that be and maintain a well-informed and responsible voting public. Where will we find such people who are willing to take up this noble profession when it seems no one can make a living at it? We offer a few suggestions:

The incarcerated.

As recently reported, a prison outside of St. Petersburg is hoping to start offering courses in journalism to its inmates. The idea is the brainchild of the regional director of
prisons, Vladimir Malenchuk, who created a journalism training program at a previous posting in Russia's Kaliningrad Region. The site of the program, Prison No. 7, already has a video production studio where the inmates make short news pieces about the prison. Prisoners in the Leningrad Region (the region which surrounds the city of St. Petersburg) can already study law and economics thanks to satellite programs at the prison established by local universities. The advantage of this model is that prison wages are a fraction of their Fleet Street counterparts (usually a couple cents per hour in the US), and we already have a number of pioneering incarcerated journalists to serve as models, perhaps the most famous being Philadelphia's Mumia Abu Jamal.

Small Children.

Kids have always been involved in journalism - from about the third grade onward, most school kids produce some sort of class newspaper, and minors even have their own press corps. Most
recently, one enthusiastic kid reporter parlayed a hard-hitting interview with the world's most boring person, Joe Biden, into a press credential for the inauguration last month. Perhaps we should put defending the public interest into the hands of the likes of Damon Weaver. Plus, little kids are happy to get paid in sundry change, or candy, which should improve most papers' margins.

Hollywood actors.

Crusading journalists, along with defense attorneys with innocent clients, hard-living cops, the mentally retarded, and Holocaust survivors, are among the favorite roles for those liberal-hearted Hollywood types. So, why not turn that love of journalism into a side career? You could probably keep an average-sized newsroom running by staffing it entirely with actors doing research for their upcoming roles, and then you wouldn't have to pay them at all. What if Kate Beckinsale, star of Nothing But the Truth, could take Judith Miller's job for real, at no cost to her employer, rather than just portraying a completely fictionalized pastiche of the neoconservative hack reporter? In a similar vein, though not a journalist, the regulator who brought down BCCI in the 1980's, John W. Moscow, is now being portrayed, sort of, by Naomi Watts in the new unwatchable blockbuster, The International. Wouldn't you agree that is quite an improvement?

Perhaps there is a better model. In previous posts we have mentioned the non-profit alternative for news outlets, an idea that has gained serious traction recently as major metropolitan areas, and even whole states, are facing the prospect of losing their papers of record. One such enterprise, the newly-launched Global Post, may not stop papers from closing their bureaus in state or foreign capitals, but it is keeping many talented reporters employed at least part-time, and its coverage thus far has been excellent and creative.

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