Opinion Columns & Blogs

Journalism skills are crucial in a democracy

Under a new Kansas State Department of Education funding model, Kansas high school journalism programs would lose state vocational education funds beginning in 2012-13. News organizations have quoted a department spokeswoman saying the intent is to funnel dollars into high-demand, high-skill and high-wage fields, and journalism doesn't have the projected job growth.

Admittedly, the U.S. Department of Labor's 2010-11 Occupational Handbook Outlook reports that "employment of news analysts, reporters and correspondents is expected to decline 6 percent between 2008 and 2018" because of factors such as media consolidation. Fewer news organizations means fewer jobs.

But, the report continues, "improving technology may eventually lead to more employment growth in this occupation by opening up new areas of work, such as online or mobile news divisions." And it says small local newspapers and news stations will provide greater job prospects.

Americans actually are spending more time with the news, according to results of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press' biennial news consumption survey released Sept. 12. People today say they spend 57 minutes a day getting news from newspapers, TV and radio, the same as they did in 2000. But they spend an additional 13 minutes a day getting news online, increasing the total time spent with the news to 70 minutes. And that doesn't include people who get their news on cell phones. In short, alternative platforms are supplementing traditional news sources.

The research center's president, Andrew Kohut, told the Washington Post that digital news is not "crowding out" the old media and may even be "reinvigorating them."

Journalism is not a dying field. It is changing and evolving. While that may be difficult and stressful, especially for those of us directly involved, it's a sign of a robust and vibrant profession. Different people want to get their news in different ways. The news-delivery mechanism is the issue, not the delivery of news.

And it isn't only about job-growth projections. Journalism fulfills a higher purpose of upholding a tradition and an ethic that communicates information about the important issues of the day. It's fundamental to a free and informed democracy.

Yes, tax dollars are scarce. But if we focus solely on the bottom line, we are investing for the short term rather than our long-term good. Haven't we made that mistake before? We won't be able to bail ourselves out once we've given away the checks and balances of a free press.

"Journalism is alive and well and needs to be continued and nurtured," said Doug Anstaett, executive director of the Kansas Press Association. "One of the pipelines to the future of being journalists is in high school journalism. We need young people to be exposed at the earliest age possible."

Indeed, we do. You do, too. The skills taught in our high school and collegiate journalism programs — communication, accuracy, fairness, skepticism, ethical decision making, analytical thinking, civil discourse — are crucial in a democracy and seemingly in shorter and shorter supply. They are skills that serve our students well, regardless of their ultimate professions. These students will be our future leaders.