There were skeptics and there was lots of fear. The world as we knew it seemed to have changed forever…and the future looked as scary as it was uncertain. That was America on the verge of the 1960s. The Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 had sent an icy chill across the country. We didn’t seem so strong and inevitable anymore. Was everything we thought wrong?
Sure sounds like local newsers as the icy chills of collapsing ad budgets, migrating audiences and technological changes have many of us wondering what the heck happened to the good old days–you know, like 2003?
Of course, John Kennedy responded to Sputnik with his momentous 1961 speech setting the nation on course for the moon, saying “we must be bold and daring and unflinching. There will, I assure you, be hours of set-back and frustration. Others will record milestones before we do…but I believe we have the courage and the patience that are needed. We have the intellectual and the financial resources–we have the will and the energy and the vision–and fate has provided us with the challenge.”
It could almost be read as a rallying cry for despairing journalists in 2009, couldn’t it? (Well, okay, maybe without the “financial resources” part) But the mission–and the moment in history–is the same. We don’t have a choice. We’re here whether we want to be or not. We can roll over, or we can take on the mountain, reinvent our jobs, and take one of those small steps/giant leaps that propel us into a new world we couldn’t really have imagined just years ago.
I’ve written about my own frustrations and setbacks as I’ve walked away from the security of a local tv news job. Others have experimented with new ways of telling stories, covering the news, and maybe–just maybe–finding a new financial model for local television. Part of me wants to run back to a safe, secure, known entity. A news job like I’ve always had, a place to wait out the transition from what I’ve known to what will be. But as JFK suggested, fate has provided me with this challenge: there are no safe secure local news jobs.
And so it’s time to sit in the module and let somebody light the fuse. We’ll either make history, or we won’t. But as Kennedy said on that day in 1961, “we cannot afford to shrink from it now.” And I applaud those of us who are out there trying things and risking their own butts doing so. In my own way, I’m going to do the same thing, trying something absolutely different from anything I’ve ever done before, without really knowing what will happen.
Instead of working for a television station, I’ll be signing on with a nonprofit. My role will be to serve as an experiment–a “community sponsored journalist” tasked with finding out if communities of people–whether they share a geographic community or a shared interest–will be willing to pay to have a journalist on the job, covering stories that affect them. Could it be a model for the future? It could. Do I know how it will go? I do not.
“So let us make ready to sail on this unknown sea,” Kennedy said. And for the first time in my career, I feel like I truly am setting out on a voyage that is both thrilling, humbling, and scary. I’ll tell you all about it soon. But for all of us looking at the collapsing world we’ve known, remember, there is the world we don’t yet know. And that may just be the most exciting parts of our careers.