I was 21 years old when I decided I wanted a career as a media professional. Not a career as a journalist–although by that time I’d worked for campus newspapers at Rutgers University for two years–but a career in media. The craft of journalism, as much as I enjoyed it (and still do) was, to me, a necessary means to that end.
Perhaps it was because I did not formally study journalism as an undergrad at Rutgers (I majored in studio art, with a minor in economics), but I’ve never felt beholden to defining myself as one type of journalist or another–newspaper or magazine, radio or television. Almost from the beginning, and over the years, I’ve been comfortable with any and all of these. The means and the tools never much mattered to me. My passion has always been sparked by the mission, especially as relates to serving African Americans: To arm people with the information they need to live better lives, and to convince, persuade, cajole and inspire them, and even scare them when necessary, to use it.
Fast forward to nearly 30 years later, and the emergence of journalism and digital media as two sides of one coin of complex and constantly evolving value. I find myself among a relative minority of journalists in my generation who are excited by the advent of so called “new” media, and slightly bewildered by many of my Baby-Boomer peers who still mourn the demise of, or at least the irreversable damage to, “traditional” media. In fact, I sometimes suffer a kind of survivors guilt about having so much fun using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to share and gather news and information (I first became active in social media, though we didn’t call it that, on BlackPlanet.com back in 1999), and about so rarely picking up a newspaper. I even sometimes pretend to mourn the changes being forced on traditional media by digital media, as an act of solidarity with my generation of media folk. The irony is that many of the media professionals lamenting the death of traditional media are the same people who ridiculed our predecessors decades ago when they insisted “true journalists would never use a damned computer to produce REAL JOURNALISM” and swore they’d give up their IBM Selectric typewriters only when they were pried from their ink-stained, lifeless hands.
Nostalgia for traditional media has its place. (I still have a copy of How To Spec Type by Alex White in my office. If you know what that is, you’re showing your age.) And I’m proud of the work I did as a so-called “old media” executive during my two decades as a print journalist (including 13 years as chief editor of Black Enterprise magazine). However, two years after crossing over to lead the content team for Black Enterprise Interactive, I can honestly say that the challenges, changes and even the ass-whuppin’s–err, ahem–adversity (don’t get me started about making this transition during a media industry recession), have made me a better, smarter media professional. Moreover, the changes being forced on Black Enterprise by digital media is making us a better company.