One is almost tempted to congratulate President Donald Trump for single-handily re-energizing the media landscape, especially the newspaper print/digital part of the journalism world. As we went through the final days of the election last fall, for example, the New York Times notched more new digital subscribers than the total from 2013 and 2014 combined. Heck, the week after the election alone some 42,000 people bought new print and digital subscriptions. And in the first quarter of this year, the New York Times netted 308,000 new digital subscribers.
The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post are also experiencing increased subscribers, both print and digital, much of it attributed to Trump's incessant attacks on newspaper and broadcast outlets, not to mention overall growing concern about his young presidency.
I suspect, as a result, we will see increasing applications at journalism schools in the next few years, much like the period following the Watergate controversy that dethroned then-President Richard Nixon back in the 1970's.
So I took some comfort as Seaholm High School in Birmingham surveyed junior level students this year to see where their interest lies as the school started preparing for its annual career day this June. For the first time ever, school officials say, a few students actually requested "writer/journalism" as a career option in the program where they visit for part of a day with persons currently working in the field they think they would like to pursue in their post college years.
In years past we have generally turned down requests for students to spend time "shadowing" members of our news department simply because we are a very small, independent news organization, our schedules are extremely busy, and we have not been convinced that watching a news reporter on the phone would be that exciting. But we are now rethinking our position, especially because we are really the last news operations in Oakland County – and quite possibly the state – doing things such as longform journalism (5,000 words plus) – in depth features focused on more serious issues facing local residents. And the new administration in Washington has really been a call to arms for those of us in the media, not just as a double-check and resistance to bad policy and abuse of power, but also a wake up call reminding us of the need to grow the ranks of journalists for the future.
We will be doing our part the first week of June when four high school juniors from Seaholm – Haley Dolan, Andrew Lapain, Molly Ligon and Lauren Wilson – visit our offices for a few hours to interact with news editor Lisa Brody, reporter Kevin Elliott, me and a couple of staff members. Hopefully we can inspire members of this group to follow in our footsteps.
In my case, I have my mother to thank for putting me on the path to where I am these days. She dutifully drove me down a two-lane M-59 from then-migrant farmland Sterling Heights each month to what was then the Pontiac (now Oakland) Press to turn in my monthly column/report printed as part of a school correspondents page. This against the background of advice from my father, a senior production engineer for General Motors, that a daughter of one of his buddies at work was a journalist and I should be forewarned that it was a profession entailing long, long hours and not the greatest of pay. He was right. Things have not changed.
By the time I hit college I did not need the Watergate controversy and the captivating congressional hearings to motivate me towards a career in journalism, although it certainly helped that a group of us at Michigan State scheduled our classes for one year around the committees' schedules so we could watch history of a Constitutional crisis unfold on live television. I was already doing occasional freelance pieces for the student newspaper, helping launch a literary magazine (lasted one year) and dreaming of selling a freelance piece to Rolling Stone during the tumultuous anti-Vietnam War era.
It will be interesting to hear from the Seaholm students just what exactly sparked their interest in journalism as a possible profession. I would like to think the current malaise in Washington D.C. and the never ending media coverage has been part of it. That would restore my faith in those who follow us in this profession because we are quickly inching toward a Constitutional crisis of sorts in the first few months of this administration and it won't be the last time in the history of the republic.
For those too young to remember, back in the early 70's we had Nixon as head of a Republican administration that was found to have ordered a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Building to copy documents and plant listening devices, a host of other dirty tricks all financed by a re-election slush fund controlled by the administration and the ensuing attempted cover up.
We are talking about a president who lacked respect for democratic institutions such as an independent press, judiciary and justice department. Nixon bugged/recorded political opponents; ordered his justice department to investigate those opposed to what he was doing, members of activist groups and the media; ordered IRS audits of members of the media and wiretapping of their phones so he could determine where news leaks were coming from; instructed the CIA to block the FBI from investigating his staff and their abuses of power; called for the resignation of two key aides and the attorney general; fired the White House counsel; and commanded the attorney general to fire the special prosecutor named to investigate his administration.
Sound familiar? History does repeat itself if we ignore or don't make ourselves familiar with the lessons of the past.
It is with hope that I am looking forward to the visit from the Seaholm students.