GEBELHOFF: Why I’m excited to start a new career in journalism

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robertI don’t know how many times I’ve been asked why I decided to enter a career in journalism.

It’s a question people often ask with a skeptical sort of tone — and I always picture Bubba’s mother in “Forrest Gump” staring down from her porch with her arms crossed.

“Are you crazy, or just plain stupid?”

No, ma’am, I’m not stupid. I’m passionately inspired and excited to graduate into an industry that’s on the verge of a renaissance.

Go ahead, laugh at me.

Sure, the news business has been in free fall for a couple of decades now, and I’ve worked with enough professionals to feel the downright bitterness that developed with annual staff downsizing. The newsrooms of some of the best papers in the country — like my personal favorite, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — are eerily sparse with reporters.

But there are two things that are changing in news companies’ favor: demographics and technology.

No, I’m not talking about social media.

Our youngest age cohort is growing up surrounded by interactive technology. Kids are learning to use touchscreens before they know basic vocabulary and, at the same time, the population accustomed to flipping through a newspaper is shrinking.

Within 20 years, our news media will have a dramatic shift in audience. We will have demographic pool hungry for immersive content that is quickly accessible.

That should be plenty of time to phase out our print editions and invest in the technology to make advertising interactive. Imagine digital coupon material exclusive to news media subscribers. Imagine the potential for more audience-targeted event promotions.

Let’s cut out those clumsy newspaper clippings and develop a more cost-efficient, and dare I say, lucrative media landscape. Let’s talk about growth.

I believe my fellow journalism graduates and I are leaving school at just the right time. In a few years, as the industry will pivot for the right business model, we’ll be the up-and-coming veteran reporters to replace the inevitable wave of newspaper retirees.

We’ll be the energetic group of reporters who haven’t been beat down by rounds of layoffs, and we’ll be the ones with a vision.

I want to lend a hand of encouragement to my fellow journalism graduates. The economy’s looking pretty good for us, and the bigger papers around the world are just now starting to show some success making money online.

If you feel like Marquette hasn’t given you the web development or data analysis skills you need, I’ll let you in on a little secret. These are easy things to get the hang of, and there tons of free programs online to help you out.

Have a question? Just Google it. Is a code not working? Experiment until you get it right. We’re in the age of the self-taught reporter, so just go for it.

But don’t forget to write. An editor at The New York Times recently told me web development skills are becoming so commonplace that what’s setting applicants apart is their ability to tell stories. Data is just the bones of a story, and it’s up to us to add the flesh and human face.

I’m leaving Marquette with a load of fantastic experience and a long list of memorable mentors. Working for student media was where I started, so I need to take a moment and thank some people who made me the perhaps far-too-confident reporter that I am.

Matthew Reddin, thanks for giving me my first job. And then also my second job.

To all of my previous editors — Tori Dykes, Zach Hubbard, Sarah Elms, Andrew Phillips, Maria Tsikalas, Allison Kruschke, Pat Simonaitis, Tessa Fox and Sarah Hauer — I’m honored to call you my peers.

And to our fearless leaders, Joe Kaiser and Becca Rebholz, you’ve been with me on this team since the first semester. I think you’ve done a hell of a job this year. You’ve been great mentors and fantastic friends, and I wish you the best of luck.

There are so many others who I should mention, but the list would be too long, so I’ll leave with one thought.

Long live the Trib.

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