Bridging the generation gap: Cliff diving

By Zach Garner, SPJ Region 3 intern and SPJ student member

My name is Zachary Garner and I’m one of the esteemed interns here at SPJ region 3.  I’m about as surprised as you are. Trust me.”

Zach Garner

On May 6 my family will sit down in Beasley Coliseum and watch as I share a sweaty handshake with a dean at my college, grab a $42,000 piece of paper and run out screaming.

Hopefully, directly into a job.

In three short months, I will be graduating from Washington State University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Media Production, thus bridging the gap from my years as a student to those as a contributing member of society.

There may be a transitional period.

The concept of going into the “real world” is both an exciting and terrifying notion every graduate has to confront, and it raises a lot of questions.

Where will I live? What will I do? What do you mean there’s no Domino’s Pizza here?

Cliff Diving

At age 22, I have spent the last 16 years of my life as a student. At this point, I’ve had some experience and I’ve grown comfortable with this lifestyle. Graduating means leaving my comfort zone.

Taking the first step out of academia and into the real world feels a whole lot like walking off a cliff.

I would like to think of it as more a leap of faith — jump, and trust you’ll find your wings somewhere along with way … before the ground or your parent’s basement, ideally.

As a new wave of student journalists graduate and take that leap, here are five challenges they might face:

Number 1: A Big, Scary World

Yes, those little children from the 1980s up to 2000 are not kids anymore. They are entering the workforce and they have their own ideas. Flickr photo

The world outside of school is a scary place … especially for graduating journalists. The ice caps are still melting, racial tensions are the highest they’ve been in years and we have a president who seems impervious to fact, logic, and (potentially) Rogaine.

The world is in a delicate, volatile place but I firmly believe the key to most of these problems lies in a well-informed public.

It’s a hailstorm, and journalists may be the one ones equipped to cover it.

Number 2: A Steep Learning Curve

In college, most things are spelled out for you. One the first day of class you’re handed a syllabus which outlines due dates, classroom conduct, scoring rubrics … anything you need.


bird-with-tabletThen suddenly, there’s no syllabi anymore. It’s time to learn to fly, little birds.”

Number 3: Smartphones and Social Media

Technology has come a long way in a short period of time and smartphones have become more easily accessible. With a majority of people in the U.S. carrying a smartphone, most citizens are just as capable of taking photos, video and writing tweets as you or I are.

How do Millennials needs to stand out to get attention?

The struggling young journalists will face how to navigate these new  mediums and to create content that stands out and get people to pay attention.

cronkite-and-twitter-copyHopefully to what matters.

Can you imagine what Walter Chronkite’s Twitter page would have looked like?

Number 4: Let’s Talk Labels

Depending upon your definition, a Millennial is a term for someone born sometime between the early 1980’s and 2000’s. The general connotations are not positive.

“Millennials are lazy, entitled, impatient people. They are overly dependent on their phones, lack social skills, empathy and can hold eye contact as well as they can hold a job.”

The biggest challenge this young generation of journalists face is to battle this stereotype — to not be defined by what the word perceives us to be.

Which brings me to the final challenge for this column:

Number 5: Representation of a Generation

millennial-headsMy generation is more closely associated to the Facebook logo and a back lit screen than anything else. The stereotype of my generation has been created over time and has been associated with young men and women who are now entering the workplace.

This is the opportunity student journalists have been given entering the workforce — to make a new name for themselves.

Maybe one we can be proud of.

We will decide how we want to be remembered.

Zach Garner

Zach Garner is a senior at Washington State University studying Journalism and Media Production. In May, Garner will be receiving a bachelor’s degree in communication with minors in philosophy and psychology. “I am a run-of-the-mill college white guy.”