Joyce Terhaar

Joyce Terhaar: A glimpse at the future of journalism through the eyes of interns

Juniper Rose likes the convenience of audio news. Katrina Cameron reads news mostly on her iPhone. For Vanessa Ochavillo, Twitter is the best way to stay on top of many different news sources. Daniel Rothberg prefers emailed newsletters in the morning. Will Wright reads a variety of sites but follows Al Jazeera and Reuters for international news.

Of all The Bee’s interns this summer – we have 15 in news – only the youngest, Isabelle Taft of Yale University, still prefers the printed newspaper to stay informed.

That’s a preference I more often hear from readers at least in their 50s or 60s. Yet the habits of our interns reflect modern-day news consumption – they are choosing to read what they want, when they want it and how they want it.

It’s an era of personal preference, made clear in their answers to questions I asked about their news habits, the habits of their peers and their thoughts about the future of journalism.

“I might be an outlier on this front,” Taft said of her fondness for print. What she said next, though, showed she’s not so different after all: “Increasingly … I get a lot of news from my Facebook news feed. Friends post links to articles with sensational headlines, and I can rarely resist clicking.”

Rothberg, from the University of Southern California, said, “What I see is dependent on who I follow on Twitter, what I like on Facebook, what sites I program into my RSS feed. I think that’s true for most people in my generation. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing … Where it becomes a problem, I think, is when people begin shutting out stories because they have an ideological significance.”

Many of these young journalists say they read news more deeply than others their age because they’re more interested. Peers outside journalism pay attention in a more superficial way.

“Most of my friends outside of journalism get their news from Facebook or me,” said Quinn Western, who, like Rose and Cameron, is from California State University, Chico.

“My peers are not as interested in current events as I am,” said Brian Nguyen, a UC Davis student. “Facebook feeds often drive the conversations we have about current events, and with Facebook trends, that has only become more apparent.”

Cameron said most of her friends are journalists so “We’re all basically glued to our phones at all times, checking RSS feeds and tweeting up a storm.”

Across the group, these young journalists are drawn to news sites with reputations for strong and accurate journalism, whether national sites like The New York Times or The Washington Post or newspapers in their hometown or NPR or a host of digital sites that have sprung up in recent years, such as Politico and Vice News.

Many of them said they shy away from citizen journalism even as they are aware of instances in which eyewitness reports on social media are of value. Almost to a person they use Twitter, a tool used by many journalists to break news but read by only about one in five adults online.

Katie Bast, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, said her nonjournalism peers use Twitter as well, but in a different way: “They may follow similar news sites on Twitter, but they’ll only read the tweets and not click on the links to read the full story.”

Our interns are entering a profession that is reinventing itself, not just in how it distributes news and information but in how it pays for that journalism. That uncertainty doesn’t seem to frighten any of them. They think journalism is here to stay.

“Journalism is important work,” said Ochavillo, from Stanford University, “especially to combat bias filtering into news created by marketing agendas.”

That’s apparent to Rothberg, who is working in our Capitol Bureau. “There is a need for more journalism today as institutions, including private ones, seem to have more control over information and influence in the political process.”

For Wright, it’s about storytelling: “Good stories bring people together and make me realize how similar we all are, regardless of different upbringings.

“I’m confident that I will be able to tell stories for a living,” he said.

And for Rachel Reddick, our science intern from Stanford, “People like to keep track of the latest goings-on, and if you don’t know the issues, it’s nearly impossible to influence them in a positive way.”

What do these digital natives think journalism will look like in 10 years?

Ernesto Morales of San Francisco State University, predicts continued shrinkage of print while online news remains strong. Mozes Zarate of Chico State expects nonjournalists to fill the role of community informer. Bast said, “We’re over the hard part in terms of adapting to online news” but the digital business model still needs work.

I heard as many predictions as we have interns, including this one that shows the power of youth, from Lauren Chapman from Ball State University:

“I have no idea. And I think that’s the most exciting thing about journalism.”