Hyperlinked to the Future of Journalism Internet Redefines How Young People View the News - and the News Business

By Alexandra Marks , writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 3, 1999 | Go to article overview

Hyperlinked to the Future of Journalism Internet Redefines How Young People View the News - and the News Business


Alexandra Marks , writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


To Sara Lyle newspapers are, well, "kind of archaic."

The recent journalism graduate from the University of Florida now works at CPNet.com - an online college news service in Miami.

She's making far more money then she could as a starting print reporter or even as an editorial assistant at a magazine. As for traditional newspaper writing, which used to offer just the facts in an "inverted-pyramid style," Ms. Lyle finds it "completely unappealing."

"I enjoy getting my news in story form and that's not a story to me," she says. "That's just throwing facts at a wall and hoping some of them stick."

Lyle reflects a fundamental shift in the public's attitudes about the media. The Internet has accelerated the redefinition of what the public - especially the young - considers important, even considers what is news. The multidimensional nature of the Web - where familiar text and still photos collide with exotic hyperlinks, audio bites, and streaming video - plays into the melding of entertainment and journalism.

That's creating a crisis of sorts in print newsrooms around the country, because fewer people are interested in traditional journalism as a career. Throughout the early 1990s, the numbers of students going into journalism have declined, according to a survey conducted by the University of Georgia. While those numbers began to pick up a few years ago, they still lag behind their 1989 peak when 145,781 undergraduate students were in schools of communications.

These statistics track with the number of college students interested in what has been called "hard news." In 1966, for instance, a survey of the nation's college freshmen found that 57.8 percent believed that "keeping up to date with political affairs" is "very important" or an "essential life goal." In 1998, that dropped to a record low of 25.9 percent, according to the University of California at Los Angeles's Higher Education Research Institute.

Even those students who do enter journalism and communications programs at universities are less interested in news. In 1986, the majority of communications students majored in traditional news editorial writing, with advertising, public relations, and broadcasting pulling up the rear. In 1997, the top category is "other," with news editorial dropping to fourth place, just slightly ahead of advertising. "Other" includes combined PR and advertising specialties, but also the new online services.

Some of the student shift to the "new" media can be explained by the creative challenge of writing for the Web. Not only does information have to be conveyed well, but a Web writer also taps all of the Internet's resources and includes video soundbites, timelines, and info-graphics, as well as links to archives and related Web sites.

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