We Can Save Community Journalism but Can Community Journalism Save Me?

"Invest in us, invest in our future."

This is part of an ongoing series of posts by this year’s AAN Convention Scholarship recipients. Previously.

“Print is dead.”

Everywhere I go, someone is trying to tap another nail in the coffin. Writers and editors with self-deprecating half jokes; so-called civilians who break my heart with their casual abandonment of the paper world. There is no money to be be made, and it seems hardly any money to be paid, in print media. But despite the dreary forecast, and $50,000 of student debt, I’ve decided to commit myself to this ever shrinking industry.

Money woes were the talk of the town a couple of weeks ago 2014 AAN Convention in Nashville. The keynote speaker Penny Abernathy spoke specifically about saving community journalism. A significant number of papers have experienced buyouts and the trauma associated with changing ownership. Editors are searching for cheap and copious content, desperate to compete with the traditional dailies.

The demand for a constant flow of content is bigger than ever before. At the editorial round table, one editor even suggested publishing the works of folks who are eager to just get their name out there, farming free content in exchange for exposure. As a writer and freelancer, it was the most disheartening thing I heard all weekend.

But as much as we all talked gingerly about shrinking staff and tightened budgets, we also talked about good journalism. At the long-form panel, dozens of writers geeked out over our love of the long stuff, and asked real questions about doing it better. We raised questions about the lack of diversity in our newsrooms (a look around the predominantly male, extremely white conference, diversity is something we’re lacking).

I was afforded the opportunity to attend this year’s conference when I was awarded an AAN Next Generation grant. I consider this to be a little investment by AAN in young writers who are interested in sticking to alternative media. The tone of the conference, in fact, seemed to be about investment—where to put your time and money. From the first editorial panel—Alt-Weeklies Grow Up—to panel featuring Melissa Bell from Vox Media and Laura Amico from homicide watch, people were here to learn how to financially as well as journalistically. The conference was energy, not hyper but full of a kind of eagerness. It was like a three-day journalism high.

As a 24-year-old writer and quite nearly the youngest person at the convention this year, I can say that it’s scary to look into my future and the future of print media, especially because I want so badly for those things to be intertwined. This year’s conference covered a lot of topics for how to innovate alt-weeklies, how we need to diversify our newspapers’ portfolios and engage with organizations for (gasp) sponsored coverage. Young writers like me are at the bottom of the totem pole, so there’s not much we can do to change the financial structure of the papers where we write. So on behalf of my peers, I want to grab everyone at that conference by the sides of the head, look them straight in the eye and say: Invest in us, invest in our future, and together we can do this shit.

Emily Hopkins is a columnist and contributor for Dig Boston and a 2014 AAN Convention Scholarship recipient.

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