Last week, I had the pleasure of serving as a panelist at the 2010 Schuneman Symposium on Photojournalism and New Media at Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. It was a fantastic experience, and professors, panelists, and students alike provided a lot of genuinely thought-provoking conversations. Nowhere are people wrestling more intensely with the future of news media than in the classrooms doing their best to prepare the next generation of journalists.
My panel was about the impact of new media on political journalism, and our conversation ranged far and wide. One of the points I tried to make in my closing was that, for all the challenges that the internet poses (largely to journalism's business model), it also provides emerging journalists with unprecedented opportunities to be heard. Barriers to entry are now almost nil, and with the explosion of social media, a good piece of work - no matter who writes or publishes it - can take off across the internet in the time it takes readers to hit a "Retweet" button.
Just ask Mike Huckabee.
The former Arkansas Governor, current Fox News host, and once and future presidential candidate gave an interview last week to The Perspective, an on-campus magazine published by students at The College of New Jersey. In the interview, Huckabee likened homosexuality to drug use, incest, and polygamy, and suggested that same-sex adoption was a politically motivated "experiment" that shouldn't be allowed because "children are not puppies." (For good measure, he also took swipes at both RNC Chair Michael Steele and GOP presidential rival Mitt Romney.)
In a world not so very long ago, The Perspective would have published its story, some students at The College of New Jersey would have read it and been rightfully horrified, some strongly worded Letters to the Editor would have been printed, and Perspective editor-in-chief M.E. Tracey would have come away with a great clip for his portfolio when he went out to look for a "real" journalism job. Meanwhile, Huckabee's press staff would have taken time out from planning a "Staying on Message" refresher course to thank the heavens it was "only" an interview with a college magazine.
But there is no "only" anymore. In a world of keyword searches, Google alerts, and news aggregators, Huckabee's incendiary comments made it from obscure campus publication to the A-wire of the Associated Press in a matter of days. (The real surprise is actually that it took that long.) Huckabee himself issued a remarkably snide and defensive non-denial on his PAC's blog, taking a shot at Tracey in the process. Tracey responded with a statement of his own, as well as the trump card of any journalist - a recording of Huckabee speaking the quotes in question.
That a major presidential contender is now caught up in a very public back-and-forth with a college senior goes to show what a very flat media world it has become.
It should be encouraging to the up-and-coming journalists I met at the Schuneman Symposium. In a flat world, smart writing, insightful opinions, and hard-nosed, news-making interviews can come from anywhere, to be read by everyone. Increasingly, they do. That change carries a lot of risks - pay attention in those journalistic ethics classes, please, kids - but it also means that hard work and a quality product can become a lot more than its own reward.
Just ask Mike Huckabee.