Last year I turned in my press pass, took the federal oath of service and finally gave in to the futuristic silver jumpsuit trend.
In our field, that’s akin to going over to the dark side. But there was a heartwarming reason I went to work for Uncle Sam (I’ll explain the jumpsuit later): the chance to spend a year helping an inner-city public access television station start a youth media program.
With a journalism degree and almost two years at my first reporting job behind me, I was at a juncture Generation J knows well: trying to plan the next career move in a turbulent industry.
I might not have gone the “alternative” route had the youth media project not tugged at my heart. My high school newspaper is the reason I am a journalist, and I wanted those opportunities for students whose schools don’t have student media.
So I signed up for the Digital Arts Service Corps,a group of VISTA members (domestic Peace Corps volunteers) who serve at low-power radio stations, public access television stations, media arts and technology centers, media literacy organizations, rural broadband initiatives, media reform policy advocates, and any organization “building a strong and diverse public media infrastructure.”
My host organization, Media Bridges Cincinnati, is a community media center devoted to helping people communicate through media. As youth channel facilitator, I started a youth media club that produces a TV show, helped develop a local youth channel, and got to witness how engaged and interested young people become when you put a microphone in their hands and let them ask the questions.
Before I joined VISTA, I covered the crime and courts beat at a daily newspaper in a small Appalachian Ohio town, where I loved the slow pace of life, the fast pace of my job and the fact that the digital revolution was as distant as the nearest big city.
The Digital Arts Service Corps issued us the proverbial silver jumpsuit worn by everyone in the future. I imagine us wearing them under our AmeriCorps polo shirts. I’ve learned to shoot and edit video, produce live studio and radio shows, manage Web pages, use social media for outreach and shed my fear of reporting on any platform other than broadsheet.
“In college, they didn’t really teach you what was up-and-coming in journalism,” said Julie Adler, a broadcast journalism graduate who spent her year in the Digital Arts Service Corps training community members to report on their neighborhoods for NeighborMedia.org, a citizen journalism project of Cambridge Community Television.
Denise Cheng, another journalist-turned-volunteer for Digital Arts Service Corps, will spend her second year in the program launching a neighborhood news bureau program funded by a Knight Foundation grant at Grand Rapids Community Media Center.
“Because of what I’m doing at my organization, I can be one of those journalism entrepreneurs in the future,” Cheng said. “I feel like I’m learning more about the entrepreneurial spirit by having to figure out a sustainable model for these grant programs.”
Another Gen-J-age volunteer at Media Bridges, Katie Finnigan, is putting a low-power FM radio station on the air this fall, a responsibility that would be quite a few steps up the ladder at a traditional radio station.
“I liked that the station was new. It wasn’t something with entrenched processes, so it was a challenge, something I could figure out,” she said.
While I miss being a member of the working press, the Digital Arts Service Corps turned out to be a perfect place for an idealistic young journalist. I work with people who respect the First Amendment, believe good journalism is vital to a healthy democracy, value the free flow of information and want to make sure everyone is able to access that information in the future.
Gen-J will probably retire from jobs that bear little outward resemblance to our first cub reporting jobs. We will still be journalists, even if we work for small news outlets, speak in less than 140-character sentences, appear as holograms or wear silver jumpsuits in the future. If anyone would like to try one on, I have a spare.
Tagged under: Generation J