Thursday, February 19, 2009

The New Media is Like My Old College Media

I've been reconnecting with old friends on Facebook, which of course has led me to think about past days that I don't think about very often. A few days ago, one of my fellow college journalist friends Friended me, and I started thinking about how my college newspaper experience is very similar to blogging.

My journalist friends were different writers than I was (my primary love was always creative writing, but like many writers, I'd try my hand at any type of writing--and the newspaper needed writers). We had all grown up in the aftermath of Watergate, and we all dreamed of being Woodward and Bernstein--or Hunter S. Thompson. We watched All the President's Men and dreamed of all the corruption we might uncover. We watched Where the Buffalo Roam and proclaimed that life could never get weird enough for us, and tried to figure out how to get alcohol into grapefruit so we could have theatrical props. We dreamed of the great stories that existed on campus, just waiting for someone to come along and expose them.

In the end, we had a lot of space in our college newspaper and not much in the way of sensational stories of sordid greed. So, we wrote about other things. People like me, who had ideas and who could meet a deadline, could write about almost anything we wanted. Did we care if anyone read our stories? Yes, but . . . the more important issue was whether or not we could cover the amount of newsprint we were obligated to fill.

I remember writing a story about the death of Simone de Beauvoir. I wrote about every strange record album that caught my attention. I wrote about books I was reading. I'm sure I wrote about the plight of South Africa and Central America, the foreign affairs flashpoints of the 1980's, when I was in school. I'm sure I wrote fretful pieces about the nuclear war I was sure was just around the corner. I'm sure I wrote more mundane pieces about various campus happenings.

I had a similar experience with campus radio. We had bought one hour a day of radio time from the local radio station, and we could fill it however we wanted, as long as we had no profanity. That hour must have been the strangest to fill the airwaves over Newberry, South Carolina. I often wondered how many county residents kept the radio tuned to what we were playing. I saw myself as a missionary of modern music, placed there to expose people to all the music they didn't know existed.

One reason that I didn't follow my passion into the grown up world of journalism or radio is that I knew that I wouldn't be allowed the same kind of latitude I'd been given in college. I'd be given boring stories to write, and for 10-20 years, I'd write them, hoping that some day I'd be given freedom to follow my own interests. If I worked in radio, I'd have to follow a strict playlist.

But the Internet gives us all the freedom I had in college. Blogging allows me to write about what interests me, and if I'm lucky, maybe others will be interested. I have friends who have explored Internet radio stations because they love the freedom. If we can afford the Internet connection, we have fabulous possibilities to explore.

And I can't help but be thankful that I didn't follow my college interests and head off into the worlds of journalism or radio--those industries have contracted sharply since my college days. I do worry that my current career field, college education, is about to experience similar contractions, but most days, I think that I can continue to carve out a living. And maybe all these new media incarnations will open doors that I don't even perceive yet.

I'm grateful to live in this world of both new and old media, where I can read The Washington Post online, reconnect with lost friends through Facebook, have worlds of information available without having to go to the library building, and have new outlets for creative expression. And when the power is out or the Internet isn't available, I still have more books on my bookshelf than I'll ever be able to read in one day--or year (but probably not enough for my entire lifetime).

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