Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Price of Ambition

"Go for the kids." "The youth demographic is the most untapped market." "Teens have cash to spend."

All these sound familiar to you? It wasn't long ago that such an association was made with cigarette companies (and still is). But media? In today's digital Wall Street Journal, advertising companies and media conglomerates are said to "want in" on college newspapers. This is hardly news - Microsoft and Ford certainly want college kids to buy their share of software suites and musclecars, nor does Wal-Mart have to peddle their wares very hard - but for companies like Gannett, this could be a bold, new, beer-soaked world allowing unobstructed access to that particular set of the population that "gets" Stephen Colbert's truthiness.

Good for them. But what's in it for the budding journalists manning the desks?

New York Timesman Jonathan Landman once corrected me during an interview for using the terms "New York Times" and "New York Times Company" interchangeably, and he's got a point - media companies are not their publications. They operate just like any other big-budget corporation at the highest levels. So is Gannett's (or, more precisely, the Tallahassee Democrat) involvement purely financial?

Since college newsrooms are usually brimming with hungry journalists (and their not-so-hungry friends persuaded into it), big media could use this opportunity to allow access to their resources and knowledge for a better paper. No, I don't mean that we should expect to see NYU J-kids bumbling around the hallways of the Daily News asking for contacts; rather, this could give the young journalists the opportunity to learn some basics from big media and receive more publicity. In return, the "adopting" paper has nurtured some fine new spot reporters to hire upon graduation.

Is this big thinking? Sure. I don't expect to see formal agreements made. I wouldn't, either - better to leave the voice of the paper to those young students (in case News Corp. thought MySpace wasn't enough) and the writing skills to the professors. But would it help to get a little structural support for websites, extra publicity and a more comprehensive experience behind the desk?

You bet.

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