By KAREN MITCHELL
I imagine that headline may have shocked you a little bit.
Shocked that I would leave the teaching job I have loved.
Shocked that I would go back into a newsroom.
Shocked that I would go to a Gannett newsroom.
I get it. Here’s the short answer: I have a great job, unfortunately it’s in Columbia, Missouri. I’m not quitting the Missouri School of Journalism — I’m quitting Columbia. It’s been 11 years here and I have learned and grown a lot. But mostly at the professional level. My personal life has not progressed and it’s time for a little more balance in my life, balance I haven’t been able to find in Columbia. I wasn’t looking to move on at this time, but an interesting job came along in a much bigger city: I’m headed toThe (Nashville) Tennessean to be the visual coach.
Here’s the longer answer:
Back in late September I was on The Des Moines Register Newsroom Alumni’s Facebook page, reading about the latest shakeup at the newspaper. The paper’s owner, Gannett, was cutting jobs — again — and reorganizing its newsrooms to increase reporting and audience engagement.
I still have enough friends there to care about what was happening and read about the upheaval for a few weeks. It was sad. Gannett was having everyone reapply for jobs and a lot of good people left or retired instead of going through that ordeal. The Register lost some good people but it kept even more. After a few weeks the messages started to wear on me. Yes, I was sad for those who lost their jobs. But for those who chose to leave or, even worse, the ones who aren’t even in that newsroom, I felt it was time for them to move on. Change happens. Journalism these days is anything but stable, we all know that.
Gannett has its way of doing things and a lot of people disagree about how it runs its news organizations. But at least Gannett is trying things. It’s not willing to be stagnant and wither away. It’s fighting to stay alive and keeps trying different things. In this next “newsroom of the future” Gannett has created some new positions. In Nashville there are three coaching positions: Investigative, Content and Visual.
Visual Coach will work with reporters, photographers, videographers and producers to create high-quality and compelling visual content for multiple platforms. The Visual Coach should have experience on how illustration, art direction, graphic design, photography and videography can be applied on our digital platforms.
Of course there are some other duties, and ultimately it sounded interesting. Between my time with newspapers and the Associated Press, I have shot photos, worked creating photo assignments, temporarily managed the Art Dept. at The Register and run two photo departments. In the past 10 years I’ve lived outside the traditional newsroom learning and teaching about ways to save our newsrooms. I’ve worked in and taught about broadcast radio and television. I’ve effectively been the managing editor of a sports department and have more than 1,000 website posts under my belt. I think I can do that job, it’s a cross between teaching and newsroom management — without administrative duties.
Here we are in 2014 and I’ve been out of the newspaper newsroom for almost 15 years. A lot has changed since then but I’m still optimistic about our industry, about journalism, and I’ve spent the last eight years or so teaching college students about the changing world of journalism. This move should say to them that I’m not afraid or discouraged about the future of journalism.
One thing has been very clear to me through all the change: there is no lack of desire for information from the public. What’s changing is how they’re consuming it, how we need to be providing it to them. There are many ways to do journalism and Gannett’s is just one. Many people can’t tolerate working for them, but I can. I’m more interested in the challenge of doing good work in this climate than I am in whether or not Gannett’s way of doing business is the right way.
Because I’m still in the field, I chose not to spend too much time lamenting over what used to be. The wonderful days that we’re reminiscing are gone and I cherish the memories. But I’m still here; I have to keep moving on along with the changes. How could I have taught my students to be prepared for the future if I couldn’t let go of the past?
Karen Mitchell is a 25-year veteran photojournalist who officially joined the convergence journalism faculty of the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in January 2008. Previously, she co-taught the convergence fundamentals course while completing her master’s degree in journalism. A native of Des Moines, Iowa, Mitchell worked as a photojournalist at the Des Moines Register and Gannett Newspapers in Rochester, N.Y. She eventually returned to the Register and worked her way up through the management ranks in photography, serving as photo editor, assistant director of photography and director of photography. Mitchell then moved to the Associated Press, first as assistant state photo editor in New York and then as state photo editor in Chicago. This column first appeared on her blog, pseudoscholar.