National Press Club

Club member calls for expanding Journalism Institute mission to target young, mid-career reporters

December 14, 2011 | By Eddie Walsh | asiapacificreporting@gmail.com

Professional journalism remains in desperate need of thought leadership.

The profession continues to face new and evolving challenges that threaten its very existence. Those at greatest risk remain the next generation of journalist leaders. It is crucial that the National Press Club identify new and novel ways to enable young and mid-career members to succeed in their chosen profession. This extends beyond social activities at the Club.

The NPC Journalism Institute should play a leading role in this effort. The Institute already provides valuable information resources and training to help journalists tackle the changing media landscape. It also offers academic scholarships to help aspiring journalists pursue an education in journalism.

Unfortunately, these programs are not sufficient to ensure a vibrant future for young and mid-career Club members. The Institute, therefore, needs to reconsider its mission and expand its focus to new areas that threaten to undermine professional journalism’s future.

For example, young and mid-career professional journalists are increasingly in need of grant and fellowship opportunities to fund independent reporting projects. This is because many accredited journalists are unable to find support for challenging stories due to budget shortfalls and other constraints in the newsroom. Freelancers face even larger hurdles.

In the past, journalists could have turned to a handful of nonprofit organizations and universities to pitch these projects. Regrettably, many of these non-profits have experienced serious funding reductions while others have chosen to invest in citizen journalism programs at the expense of the professional journalist. The ones that remain are often tied to topic restrictions by the grantor.

If another nonprofit organization, such as the Institute, does not step up and provide sufficient grants and fellowships to meet the current shortfall in supply and increase in demand, many talented young and mid-career professional journalists will be denied the opportunity to pursue meaningful independent journalism projects. This will be harmful to the entire profession as such projects enable emerging journalists to realize their potential.

Young and mid-career professional journalists also would benefit from a global professional community designed exclusively for their demographic (i.e. Young Professionals in Foreign Policy or CSIS Young Leaders). For years, the Club provided that with a robust professional development and mentoring program that connected its young members with the Club’s more established journalists. Unfortunately, this program waned in recent years, as has the job board.

The Institute could fill this void by launching a new program designed for young and mid-career journalists, perhaps around the six pillars of connect, inform, mentor, train, employ and engage. By leveraging a social Internet platform, coupled with physical events at the Club, the Institute could appeal to professional journalists around the world. This would not only support its mission but also generate increased awareness of Club thought leadership outside the Beltway.

These are but two examples of how the Institute could expand its mission in support of the future of professional journalism. There are dozens more. This piece is not the proper forum to outline and debate all of them. Instead, it serves simply to illustrate that there are many opportunities available for the Club and the Institute to assume a more vocal role as a thought leader for professional journalism.

As the newly elected Club officers assume their roles, I hope that they will take the time to review the Institute’s mission and re-evaluate the role Club should play in supporting the future of professional journalism.

Looking around the Club prior to the election, it was clear that there far too few full-time young and mid-career professional journalists active in important Club committees (e.g., International Correspondents and Freelance).

Our Club needs to reverse this trend by advancing a new vision for the profession that better attracts and retains young and mid-career professional journalist talent. Electing a freelance mid-career professional as president supports this objective. Hopefully, reconsidering what thought leadership should mean to the Club will serve as another.

Eddie Walsh is the Washington (Accredited) Foreign Correspondent for The Diplomat. He is an active young member of the International Correspondents and Freelance Committees at the National Press Club.