Looking at future through eyes of students

Published 10:03 am Saturday, February 18, 2012

TUSCALOOSA – Members of the Alabama Press Association are gathered here this weekend for our semi-annual meeting. This year, our winter meeting is being held jointly with the Alabama High School Press Association’s, that we might celebrate their 75th year as we mark our 141st.

The contrasts are striking.

This is the event at which we annually present lifetime achievement awards, which this year went to former Decatur Daily editor Tom Wright (husband of Andalusia native Regina Brogden Wright, AHS Class of ’61 and also a retired editor; in accepting the award, Tom said any award for him should also go to his wife) and Alvin Benn, whose Montgomery Advertiser work is familiar to many Andalusians.

Benn chronicled his career in a book, “Reporter. Covering civil rights and wrongs in Dixie,” replete with stories of covering Klan rallies and murder trials, and filing those stories by dictation over a pay phone.

The young journalists who are with us this year have likely never seen a pay phone, and I’d wager that most of them brought at least a cell phone, if not a smart phone, with them. My challenge was to convince them they’d get better stories if they showed up in person rather than depending upon email and phone calls. As I prepared to lead a session on interviewing, I kept thinking, “They should probably be teaching us.”

A recently-commissioned McLaughlin and Associates statewide survey confirmed for us that print journalism is still strong in Alabama, where 86 percent of those polled regularly read printed copies of newspapers, and 53 percent regularly read newspaper web sites. Forty-seven percent of those polled read a daily regional newspaper every single day. Even better, 82 percent read their local newspaper regularly.

Those are strong numbers in a culture that is increasingly mobile and electronic. We are pleased.

None of us knows for certain what the future of the print news business looks like. In turn, radio and television were predicted to bring about our demise. But this we do know: It will be imagined and shaped by the bright young minds we have sought to influence here this weekend. Indeed, we will learn from them.

I still love the world’s “first portable news device,” a printed copy of the newspaper. Someone just slid today’s Birmingham News under the door of my hotel room – truly the greatest luxury of an Alabama Press Association meeting – and there is a fresh pot of coffee brewing. For now, I’ll savor what we are, even as I join the young people in imagining what we will become.