The Future of Journalism, According to the Future

By “the future,” Kevin Nguyen means a dozen elementary school students on a field trip to the offices of The Daily, the student newspaper of the University of Washington.

Kristin, our guide and director of The Daily, started our tour in the advertising department. “To make newspapers, you need to have advertising because it’s a business,” she explained. This seemed extremely honest, and to my surprise, the group I was chaperoning — the Newspaper Club at 826 Seattle, made up of a dozen elementary school students — understood completely.

Photo by Drew Leavy

Photo by Drew Leavy

“You need ads to pay writers!” yelled one enthusiastic fifth grader.

Kristin complemented him on his answer, and said he should apply to the University of Washington when he would be ready for college in eight years. The fifth grader explained that he probably wouldn’t attend UW, because it was his “second-choice college.”

We moved from advertising to the archives, a room that held copies of The Daily dating back to 1891. The Daily isn’t a national publication — it’s the student newspaper of the University of Washington, but it’s arguably one of the country’s best college newspapers. Across from the stacks was a plaque for the paper’s 2010 Pacemaker Award (the “Pulitzer for college journalism”).

From the stacks, Kristin pulled out an over-sized book housing old issues of the paper. She set it on the table and explained that before computers, newspapers had to be laid out and typeset by hand. The students couldn’t quite grasp it. Didn’t that take forever? Kristin asked everyone to imagine a world without the internet.

“That’s sad,” said a fifth grader. “No Facebook! No Twitter! No Bloons Tower Defense 3!”

I told him to stop screaming.

The girl in third grade asked why anyone would read a newspaper if it was available on the web. Kristin said that that was the direction The Daily was moving. They had thousands of online visitors every day, and that number was growing, but that it was still important to have a print circulation for people who didn’t own a computer.

“Like people who lay out newspapers by hand.”

We moved to the news room, where we were joined by Casey, The Daily’s former editor-in-chief, who fielded questions about journalistic ethics. She explained that, above all, the goal of journalism was to tell the truth as accurately and objectively as possible.

“Can the truth hurt people?” asked the fifth grader.

Casey was careful with her response. She explained that sometimes to tell people the whole story, writers have to say things that might hurt other people’s feelings.

“People will hate you if you do that,” said a girl in second grade. “Why would you want that?”

I tried telling her that there was more to life than being liked, and she asked me how many Facebook friends I had.

As we left, Kristin told us that this field trip group asked some great questions. On the bus, the students went on about how much fun they had at the offices of The Daily. When I asked if anyone would consider pursuing journalism as a career, everyone got quiet.

“I think newspapers are great,” said one kid. “I just want someone else to make them.”

Kevin Nguyen is a founding editor of The Bygone Bureau. His only marketable skill is an above-average knowledge of European geography. He has been useless since the introduction of the atlas in 1477. Reach him by email or follow his Twitter account.