Journalism: Not dead yet

Andrew Sheeler / Sun Star Editor-in-Chief
April 5, 2011

Three carloads, four days and five awards later, the Alaska Press Club 2011 Conference has ended. What can I say? It’s been a hell of a ride.

Our story begins bright and early on Thursday, March 31. Twelve students and a professor gathered in the journalism office before piling into three cars loaded with luggage. Our destination was Anchorage, home of the annual Alaska Press Club Conference, formerly known as J-Week. Every year, journalists from across the state gather in Alaska’s largest city with journalists from across the country.

In between all the panels, workshops, parties and getting lost on the way to those things, I learned something. Oh sure, I learned lots. I picked up more than a dozen nifty online tools that could enhance The Sun Star website. I learned that every journalist should have a Facebook page, that downtown Anchorage is much more fun in the company of several drunk journalists, and that I get lost a lot. But here’s what I really learned: journalism is not dead.

Maybe “learned” isn’t the right word. I knew that journalism wasn’t dying, just undergoing some changes. What I had was more like an epiphany.

I’d like to thank Susan Orlean for that. Orlean is a veteran reporter and author who has written for Rolling Stone, Esquire, Outside, Vogue and most prominently The New Yorker. She was also selected as this year’s conference keynote speaker. Orlean’s speech was amazing overall, but what struck me most was her statement that it isn’t the medium, but the message that’s important. What matters is the story. That was why Orlean, a master storyteller, was selected as the keynote and why this year’s conference was entitled “Story Forever.” Whether it’s 1000 words or 140 characters, what matters is telling the story that needs to be told. It’s important to remember that journalism isn’t just a job. It’s a calling.

“I know you all work hard. And the way to get better is work a little harder,” Orlean said.

With that in mind, another thing I (re)learned is that this job is worth it. This job is worth working seven days a week, including long hours on the weekend. Being a journalist is worth the angry letters, the threats and bluster and pettiness that you deal with on a near-daily basis. I’m not just saying this because we cleaned up at the awards (although boy did we!). I’m saying this because being in a room full of people who love what they do as much as you do is enough to recharge the batteries of even the most beaten down cynic. Learning techniques and acquiring tools to help you perfect your art is more potent than all the free beer the Anchorage Press and Alaska Dispatch have to offer. Spending three days with the only people in the world who can truly understand how important and fun this job is helped me write this editorial after a seven-hour drive back to Fairbanks.

Next week, I can’t wait to tell you a story.

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