The future of journalism

With the news industry at a crossroads, \nthese reporters could make a difference


Some of them have risked their lives on the streets of Baghdad while others chronicle breaking news in their own backyards. Some first learned their craft covering AIDS in Kenya and violence in South Africa while others had their career paths changed significantly by the events of September 11. One created a buzz-worthy mock documentary on the future of news media while another is an emerging voice for an economically disenfranchised generation. Some work for the old media outlets that are losing their once-dominant grip on the news landscape and some are employed by the new media vehicles that are redefining news culture. All of them have achieved success in a highly competitive and challenging business. And none of them really knows what that business will look like in 10 years.

the news industry at a confusing crossroads, one thing is certain: no matter how information is delivered, the future belongs to skilled journalists who can report, edit, and deliver it. The people on this list—culled from many sources—may not be household names. Some may be known only in their own households. But they are ambitious, committed and talented. They have made their mark at a young age, have the potential for bigger and better things and may well have a role in helping set the course of the media industry in the years and decades to come. We talked to them about their lives and careers, hopes and concerns. And about why they were drawn to journalism.

Adrian Holovaty
24, editor of editorial innovations at Washington-post.Newsweek Interactive

When Chicago resident Adrian Holovaty came across the website for the city’s police department, he thought: “It’s cool to have access to all that information.” But he also figured, “I could improve on that.” With the help of a friend, a designer, Holovaty created, a site that allows residents to track crimes in that city by location, date, and type. For those efforts, Holovaty was just named the winner of the $10,000 grand prize in the Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism, funded by the Knight Foundation.

A former editor of his high-school paper in Naperville, Ill., and online editor of the University of Missouri’s independent paper, The Maneater, Holovaty was recently hired for his Washington Post Interactive job, which entails developing everything from searchable databases to map interfaces. Happily, he gets to do the job from his home in Chicago.

Holovaty admits he is not sanguine about the future of the newspaper industry. “I’m not optimistic about it because journalists tend to be so resistant to change,” he says. “Newspapers really ought to be investing in technology and bringing technology people on board. I mean, Google and Yahoo are gonna walk all over us.”

The young journalist who describes himself as a Web developer says his primary interests are “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable” and “public service, making information available to people.” As someone who believes in the free (literally) flow of information, Holovaty says he’s opposed to such experiments as the New York Times’ new program to charge for certain premium services online.

Dan Harris
34, ABC news correspondent

After Dan Harris left his job at WCSH-TV in Portland, Maine, he had some trouble on the job market. “Nobody wants me because I look like I’m seven,” recalls Harris. “I couldn’t get a job.”

But he did have a connection in Charlie Kravetz, an executive at the Boston-regional cable-news outlet, NECN. A Colby College graduate, Harris worked at NECN from 1997 to 2000 until the big call came from New York. It’s no mean feat graduating from local cable news to a nightly network newscast.

“When ABC called me, I was literally shocked,” Harris says. Hired to take over from Anderson Cooper on the network’s overnight “World News Now” broadcast, Harris’ career took off after the attacks of 9/11, at which point his mandate expanded. He reported from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel, and Iraq, and then last year was assigned to cover John Kerry’s presidential bid. He recently returned from two weeks in New Orleans covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The late ABC anchor Peter Jennings “really took me under his wing,” says Harris. “I was able to develop strengths I didn’t know I had largely through Peter. [He] let me write the way I wanted to write, allowed me to develop a bit of a voice.”

With ABC now searching for a new anchor, Harris figures that “in the short term, while there will be a lot of changes on the personnel front, our basic approach won’t change that much.” In the long run, however, he thinks the network newscast may be headed toward “radical changes.” Wherever the business goes, Harris hopes “there may be another golden age in journalism. Conceivably, by the time I’m a grown-up, the market will have sorted itself out in a way that’s favorable to people who have something to offer.”

Matt Thompson
24, deputy editor of interactive media at the Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Project for Excel-lence in Journalism’s voluminous 2005 report on “The State of the News Media” begins with a reference to a widely circulated “mock documentary about the future of news” created by “two aspiring newsmen fresh from college.” In its eye-opening and frightening futuristic scenario, the traditional press has been doomed to irrelevance, the New York Times is a niche newsletter for the elite and the elderly, and a company called “Googlezon” dominates the media universe by customizing content—much of it sensational, trivial, and inaccurate—for each individual user.

One of the documentary’s creators was Matt Thompson, a Toronto native and 2002 Harvard grad who cooked up the idea with a friend while visiting the bars of Miami’s über-trendy South Beach. “Our discussion kind of pre-empted any other enjoyment of Miami,” he recalls.

Asked about his own future, Thompson, who was recently hired for the Star Tribune interactive job, says “I guess I definitely see myself online. I hope that journalism [becomes] something much more imaginative than what it is. I hope we really start taking advantage of the context and capacity the Internet provides.”

Thompson, who was “really interested in screenwriting and documentary” work, interned a few years ago at Scout Productions in Boston, producer of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” While attending a private Christian high school, he became the first-ever student editor-in-chief of the school’s paper, thanks to his innovative ideas. (Until Thompson came along, the school librarian had done the job.) He was also the first online reporter at the Fresno Bee, introducing a set of story-form innovations including music videos and mini-documentaries. “The more creative I got, the more interest people had with it,” he says.

Like Holovaty, Thompson believes journalism must adapt more effectively to dramatic technological changes. Asked how the creator of “Googlezon” sees the media world shaking out down the road, Thompson responds: “I definitely see a lot of folks making a lot of money. I don’t know that it will support that giant infrastructure that news organizations” have relied on until now.

Zain Verjee
31, anchor for CNN International

At an age at which most young people are worried about how they’re going to spend the weekend, Nairobi-born Zain Verjee had worked as a DJ at that city’s first private radio station, freelanced for the BBC, and anchored the news on the Kenyan Television Network.

“You can imagine what my social life was,” she jokes.

Today, the Atlanta-based Verjee co-anchors CNN International’s “Your World Today” newscast and is a regular contributor to CNN’s new afternoon show, “The Situation Room”, with Wolf Blitzer. She stays on “The Situation Room” set for the entire three hours of the show because “every time I leave, something happens.”

A graduate of McGill University in Montreal with a degree in English, Verjee has immersed herself in a number of causes including the fights against AIDS and violence against women. She recently published a children’s book about a young Kenyan girl interested in the broadcasting business. “The career trajectory I followed in some ways has been nontraditional,” she says.

Having been hired by CNN International five years ago as a copywriter, Verjee quickly made it on the air. She now describes herself as “sort of International Person 101,” with the job of making global news “relevant, either through a level of familiarity that has an obvious U.S. connection or to be able to simplify a story and get the message out.”

Asked what she’d like to be doing in five years, Verjee makes clear that she wants to improve on an already impressive career. “I’d like to be better than what I am today,” she says. “I would like to have a broader understanding…more visceral field reporting. For now, I’m trying to develop.”

Anya Kamenetz
25, author, writer, blogger

Anya Kamenetz has written about everything from the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the city where she went to high school (New Orleans) to the strange experience of going to a party where everyone is naked. But the author of the Village Voice’s “Generation Debt” column, who will soon publish her first book, titled Generation Debt: Why Now is a Terrible Time to be Young, seems to be emerging as a voice for politically and economically disenfranchised 20-somethings.

“The whole thing has passed,” says Kamenetz, who graduated from Yale seven months after the 9/11 attacks. “There was a feeling among my peers and I that we had gotten a bum deal, sort of. Politically things were going badly, economically things were going badly.”

The daughter of two writers (her father, Rodger Kamenetz, wrote The Jew in the Lotus), she worked as a research assistant for writer Susan Orlean, who took an interest in a story Kamenetz had written for the New Journal magazine at Yale. She began contributing as an intern for the Village Voice–writing music and book reviews–during her senior year in college. A Voice assignment on “the new economics of being young” soon turned into the “Generation Debt” column.

Now, Kamenetz seems determined to use her journalistic skills to help galvanize a broader movement.

“I have a political agenda. We can take the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) as a model and really take on those generational issues,” she says. “I have grown up in a time of unique disaffection from the political process among me and my peers.”

Kristen Go
29, assistant city editor of the Scottsdale Republic

Kristen Go was a reporter at the Denver Post on that spring day six years ago when the bodies started piling up at Columbine High School. She was quickly dispatched to the local trauma hospital, becoming part of the team that won a 2000 Pulitzer Prize in the “Breaking News Reporting” category. Later, Go was assigned to a series focusing on students at a local high school, at least in part due to her youth. “Because I was the youngest person on staff,” she says, “they decided I would be able to fit in with high-school kids.”

A Stockton, Calif., native, Go recalls catching the journalism bug from her older sister, who edited the high-school paper and “was allowed to travel to different conventions and workshops, and I thought, ‘my God, that’s a great way to get out of class.’” Go was eventually named high-school journalist of the year by the Journalism Education Association, an award she describes as “kind of like Miss America without the swimsuits.”

Five years ago, she arrived at the Arizona Republic after that paper won a bidding war for her services. She started out as an education reporter, but two years later was moved to the paper’s Scottsdale office and is now an assistant editor at the Scottsdale Republic—a daily community paper inserted into the Arizona Republic. In that job she oversees eight reporters.

“So far, this is a career path I do like,” says Go, who initially planned on being a newspaper feature writer. “The fact of the matter is there aren’t a lot of people my age who are editors or people who look like me who are editors.”

“I know it’s scary,” says Go of the circulation and revenue problems plaguing the newspaper industry. “I think that we still provide a very valuable service. I think our business model isn’t quite working.”

Lara Logan
34, CBS News correspondent and contributing correspondent for 60 Minutes

A native of Durban, South Africa, Logan was imbued with a love of books and reading by her parents. She was all of eight years old when one of her teachers declared that “if this child doesn’t become a writer or journalist, it’ll be a sin.”

About a quarter-century later, on April 9, 2003, Logan found herself in Baghdad when the Saddam Hussein statue fell. Without a CBS crew to accompany her on that momentous day, she phoned in her urgent reports to New York.

“I think the ultimate thing for me was being here in Baghdad alone for two weeks, the last two weeks of the war,” said Logan, who has recently been working on a 60 Minutes story in Iraq.

Being raised in a South African “township where people were hacked to death,” Logan has a history of viewing bloody conflicts up close. “Growing up in South Africa…I was just conscious of the fact that there was something very wrong. And that made me ask questions.” She began interning for a major newspaper while still in high school, heading out to the local morgues to count up the victims of violence.

Logan expects to head back to Iraq soon for another 60 Minutes piece that will take her near the Syrian border. She admits that physical danger is part of the job. “We talk about it, we joke about it, but it’s in the back of our minds all the time,” she says, conjuring up the nightmare of “being put on the Internet in an orange jump suit.”

“You rely on a little bit of luck or a lot of luck,” she adds. “You have to be smart about it.”

Hannah Allam
28, Cairo bureau chief for Knight Ridder

Having spent some of her formative years in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Hannah Allam saw her career change after 9/11. Formerly a court reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, she was assigned to cover the domestic reaction and the Arab-Muslim angle in the aftermath of the attacks in Washington and New York.

“That kind of set the stage for overseas work, which is what I wanted to do all along,” Allam says. Two years ago, she went to Baghdad for Knight Ridder, the company that owns the Pioneer Press and more than 30 other papers. Within months, she became bureau chief there, overseeing a staff of almost 20 journalists and support personnel.

“I just didn’t think there was any way they would give me a chance,” she recalls. “I was young and inexperienced...Some of the people coming through on those rotations had covered Vietnam. [Running the bureau] didn’t come naturally. But I think they’ll tell you I grew into it all right.”

Last month, Allam was awarded the John S. Knight Gold Medal, Knight Ridder’s highest recognition for employee accomplishment. Having now been reassigned to Cairo, she will use that post as a base to travel and cover the entire Middle East, which she calls “my dream job.”

“Just [knowing] the little cultural dos and don’ts...makes it easier to get access and trust,” she says. “They invite you in and they think you’re this non-threatening woman and so they tell you things. And they’re surprised to see it on the cover of the Philadelphia Inquirer the next day.”

Allam says she is befuddled by this nation’s apparent disinterest in global events and detachment from the war in Iraq. “I find the lack of engagement with international news to be a problem, or at least disconcerting,” she says. “What struck me the most about coming back [to the United States prior to moving to Cairo] is this does not strike me as a national war.”

Corky Scholl
28, photojournalist for KUSA-TV in Denver

Back when this Minneapolis native was in high school, Corky Scholl was making snowboarding videos for a local public-access station. A decade later, he is the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Television News Photographer of the Year. His winning contest tape included about a dozen feature, sports, general, and spot-news stories, including a piece he did after following a homeless musician around for a year.

“It seemed to me that this is the type of photographer people really go to when an important story needs to be shot,” one of the contest judges noted. “I loved the variety of the stories, and how so many of them really dealt with people and their lives.”

For his part, Scholl says he loves “the creative aspect obviously first and foremost. You get to document history. You get the adrenalin rush.”

Beginning his career at a local cable-news operation before working at KSTP-TV in Minneapolis, Scholl moved to Denver about two years ago and works on stories primarily for KUSA’s signature 10 p.m. newscast.

“Sometimes, I’ll get to a story and people will think I’m an intern. I don’t mind,” says the youthful-looking Scholl. “Other people seem to think it’s helpful because they’re surprised about how people open up to me.”


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