By Andrew Propp ’10
On the second day of my internship at the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” Michael Jackson died. His death consumed the media for weeks. His passing was my first taste of what it's like to work at a news organization, furiously trying to keep up with the news cycle on one of the year’s biggest stories.
“NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” is public television's nightly news program. For me, as the photo intern for the show’s Web site, Jackson's death meant days of scouring photo wires and the Internet for photographs that chronicled the rise and tragic fall of this pop icon.
A few days later, during a respite from the furor, I went with a reporter to a prison in Washington D.C. to photograph inmates preparing to re-enter the toughest job market in decades. But perhaps the most absorbing and unexpected dimension of the internship is that I've also witnessed and taken part in the transformation of a respected news organization trying to reshape itself for this Internet age.
For more than three decades, the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” has delivered a different brand of journalism than the nightly news programs on the major networks or cable television. The hallmark of the NewsHour has always been long-form segments with in-depth reporting and round-table discussions, rather than short, sound-bite oriented stories. While cable news networks are best at informing the public as an event is breaking, the role of the NewsHour has been to provide a broad, balanced overview. As one colleague put it: "We're here to tell everyone that it's going to be alright." The show has excelled at this. But now, producing an hour-long broadcast once a day is not enough. The Internet, not television, is the medium of the current and undoubtedly the future.
Faced with this reality, the NewsHour is transforming itself from an organization that assembles a nightly television broadcast and happens to have a Web site to an organization that distributes its content throughout the day through its site while continuing its evening broadcast. The broadcast and online divisions are becoming one, married together so that the best aspects of each combine into a radically different news operation.
These changes represent the most profound shift in the NewsHour's format since it went on the air in 1973. Young Americans are no longer consuming the news in a way traditional news outlets are accustomed to. With the proliferation of blogs, Twitter, and social networking, the known business models of even a few years ago are no longer applicable.
It is an exciting time, and a terrifying time. The problems that plague the news industry – high costs, an inability to keep up with leaner, Internet savvy organizations like The Huffington Post – are not issues that journalism-school-educated veterans are equipped to solve, because the journalism industry has never faced a business model crisis like this one.
As a young adult steeped in this Internet age and armed with a Whitman liberal arts education, people like me are best suited to tackle some of the journalism industry's most pressing issues. At the NewsHour, I've taken part in weekly discussions of the redesign of the Web site. I've also been asked to help figure out how the program can best use photographs in the future. Every day, as I watch photos come in from around the world on the news wires and use them in the NewsHour's work, I get a thrill having a unique perspective on the day's events. But the memory of contributing to reshaping an increasingly central part of a highly-respected news organization will stay with me for years to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Andrew Propp will graduate from Whitman in May 2010 with a degree in history. He is an accomplished photographer/photojournalist and has worked for the Whitman Office of Communications and the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. After graduation, he hopes to pursue photography professionally.