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Ruth Ann Harnisch: Journalists Must Map Own Careers

The old board game Careers has some lessons that individual journalists, who are worried about their futures, might consider. That’s just one piece of advice I plucked from a phone conversation I had this morning with Ruth Ann Harnisch, president of the Harnisch Family Foundation, which is helping underwrite our Representative Journalism project in Northfield, Minnesota.

In that game, there was no one way to win. Each player decided on his or her individual formula for success based on what combination of money, fame and happiness was most important to that individual.

So it is with individual journalists of the future. Everyone gets to make up his or her own formula. There will be no one path. Life might be similar to that for musicians who come to Nashville. Everyone comes there with the idea of being the best, but alas some people end up playing the lounge scene, even though the pay is small. They are driven by their passion as are would-be actors in New York. They wait on tables or find more creative ways to have multiple streams of income so they can pursue their passion.

Harnisch believes there will be equally passionate people who are storytellers, who are curious about the world in which they live and who have an unstoppable passion to share what they learn with others. That passion is as old as the folks who did the cave drawings.

Here are some questions I drew from speaking to Harnisch:

  1. What are your creative options for producing high quality, ethically sound content?
  2. How will you get that content as widely distributed as possible and made universally available?
  3. How will you create multiple streams of income so you can produce that high quality, ethically sound content?

Of course, the real message here is that journalists will have to start thinking more like entrepreneurs and will have to take more control of their personal futures. Jeff Jarvis’ CUNY conference New Business Models for News will be addressing the topic in October. The Poynter Institute is having a by invitation only meeting in November entitled: Who Will Pay for the News: A New Look at Consumers, Advertisers and Patrons, Baruch College in New York City is planning a journalism business models forum in early 2009. And Baruch, Poynter and I, via my Fowler endowed chair at Kennesaw State University, are looking to have a journalism jobs pre-convention conference at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) convention next August.

So, the discussion, thanks to people like Ruth Ann Harnisch, is moving from hand-wringing to looking for new business and career models for individual journalists because this is no board game, it is the real thing.

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