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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Published: Friday, 12/4/2009

Journalism is changing, but there's always a need to know

Jeff Smith Jeff Smith
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Dear Mom,

If you're reading this, then you know that I'm still gainfully employed. That's the good news.

The bad news is that across the country media outlets find themselves in difficult times, and maybe you're worried about my future.

Relax. Everything will be fine. I've had a nice talk about it with Jeff Smith.

No, Mom, not my little brother, Jeff. He's out in L.A. watching the Emmys at Carmen Electra's house and hoping to get a job working on the VH1 reality series Tough Love. (Can you believe that episode when the women got electric shocks during dates if they talked about taboo topics like ex-boyfriends?)

The Jeff Smith I'm talking about is a news anchor/reporter with WTVG-TV, Channel 13, and he has chosen this year - a time when the nature of journalism's future remains uncertain and plenty of industry insiders are nervous - to create a class on the subject at his alma mater, St. Francis de Sales High School.

My first thought was: Why? Don't get me wrong, I love my job and can't think of doing anything else, but I've wrestled with the prospect of actively encouraging others to follow in my footsteps given the layoffs and other problems that are out there.

Jeff's class is a reminder that there's more to it than that. Taped to the wall of the classroom is the first hint: the words of the First Amendment ensuring the freedom of the press.

"We are the only industry that is protected by the U.S. Constitution," Jeff said. "I think that's pretty darn cool."

It sounds idealistic, but Jeff, 36, is not blind to the field's current woes. He just thinks that there always will be a need to know and therefore always a need for people who can ask the right questions and compellingly present the answers. The medium they use to do it, whether it's the newspaper, TV, radio, or Internet, doesn't matter.

"There's always that trepidation, especially in this economy, that like a blip on the map you could be gone," he said. But "as far as journalism in general, I have no fear whatsoever."

He and his class of 10 seniors have talked about the changing field, so if any of them still try and become the next Woodward or Bernstein, they'll do it with their eyes wide open. (Speaking of those changes, Mom, you can follow me on Twitter now. My user name is "BladeFeatures.")

This is not to say that Jeff has all the answers - so much about journalism remains in flux - but maybe one of his students will. Maybe it will be Will Garbe, the young man wearing a green bow tie one day who sat in class asking tough questions to mayoral candidate Keith Wilkowski prior to the election.

Will has wanted to be a journalist since fifth grade when he became a devotee of Peter Jennings. He sees the current trends. He knows all about the numbers. Yet he still wants to pursue journalism because it's something that gets his heart racing.

We should all be so lucky to have such zeal for our vocation. It's easy these days to get bogged down in the gloom and doom and forget how amazing it can be to cover something like the aftermath of Hurricane Ike in Texas (Jeff) or a rally for a presidential candidate in your hometown (me). But it is amazing, and having a reminder like Jeff's class, with its dose of faith and optimism, is more important now than ever.

I certainly feel better that everything will work out somehow. I mean, if you can have a Facebook account, Mom, anything's possible, right?

Tweet you later,

Ryan

Contact Ryan E. Smith at:

ryansmith@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103



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