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Larry Lough

Second Opinion: Where do we find tomorrow’s reporters?

Journalism isn’t a career for everybody.

Not for people who have to be popular ... or want to be rich.

But it’s work that is important, rewarding and fun – especially newspaper work.

The news is different every day, and so is the job of the reporter and editor.

Despite the changes in newspapers and other news media, we will always have journalism.

Which means we will always need journalists.

WE UNDERSTAND why some parents might be apprehensive if their children want to study journalism.

Or, scarier still, become newspaper reporters!

As a member of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Board, this editor has recently been involved in discussions about the value of a journalism education.

Fellow board member Lonny Cain, who is managing editor of the newspaper In Ottawa, took on the job of writing an essay to encourage students to consider the study of journalism – at any level.

“Help me by sharing your top three reasons a journalism degree is worthwhile,” he wrote in an email to board members. “What would you tell the [high school] senior sitting in your office right now?”

Here is what this editor suggested:

1. THE SKILLS YOU learn in journalism are transferable to virtually any profession. The ability to express yourself clearly will be important for any career you pursue – and it doesn’t hurt in school when you’re answering essay questions and writing term papers.

2. YOU WILL LEARN how to learn, which will serve you well as you inevitably tackle unfamiliar tasks and topics throughout your life and career. The journalist’s ability and willingness to research, question and verify information will ensure you never stop learning.

3. JOURNALISTS FIND great satisfaction in doing good for people and their communities. They work to keep government officials accountable, to expose harmful business practices, and to help people get involved in improving the places where they live.

Plus, they get to tell lots of good stories about long-separated siblings being reunited, long-lost pets being found, and long-suffering patients finding a cure – or at least an inspiring peace. News isn’t always bad; in fact, it’s often very good.

JOURNALISM ISN’T just about news reporting.

Check out the variety of magazines at a bookstore or drug store.

Every interest possible, it seems, has a magazine. And every magazine needs writers and editors and photographers and designers and ...

The numbers and kinds of magazines seem to be limitless.

Not just magazines about sports, but separate and several magazines for every sport. Not just outdoors magazines, but different publications for hunting, fishing and camping. Multiple magazines targeting men readers, and even more targeting women. Check out the magazine rack sometime.

No matter your interest, journalism seeks to serve it.

WILL NEWSPAPERS be around in a few years to offer jobs to young journalists?

Depends on how you define “newspapers,” which today are so much more than ink-on-paper products.

But, yes, the printed edition will be with us for many years to come.

As we are seeing in some markets in other states, that rolled-up newspaper in the plastic bag might not be published every day, or it might not be delivered to your home each morning.

But as long as readers and advertisers prefer the printed edition, it will exist.

This business someday will feature a dominant digital product. And Sauk Valley Media, with an array of electronic options, is preparing for that day.

But it won’t happen until our customers show they are ready.

HOWEVER, THAT won’t affect the need for young journalists with skills in information-gathering and story-telling, as well as new technology, to serve the needs of their communities and this democracy.

The First Amendment protects the press for a reason, which speaks to the importance of our job.

You’ll find some public officials and their friends – from Rock Falls to Oregon – who are not very happy with us for our recent reporting of information from public records we obtained.

But you’ll also find lots of readers who are grateful that we continue to monitor the performance of government officials, especially when it comes to spending local tax dollars.

That’s our obligation under the social contract that is the First Amendment.

AS OUR FELLOW editor Lonny Cain wrote in his essay, people have to ask themselves whether they have the right stuff to be a journalist.

“In the end it comes down to individual passion,” he wrote “If you have a desire to write, if you have a nagging curiosity about things you see and hear; if you have questions that deserve answers; if you care about people, animals, plants and more; if you want others to know what you know ... then you are ready to be a reporter.”

The editors and reporters at this newspaper would be happy to help aspiring journalists consider their career options.

We are more than willing to make ourselves available to students, school newspaper advisers, and guidance counselors who are looking for journalists to share the experiences from their career choice.

Journalism can always use good young recruits.