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Alana Taylor

“Nowadays it’s essential for journalists to blog,” says Professor Mary Quigley to a class of 16 NYU journalism students. The class is titled “Reporting Gen Y (a.k.a. Quarterlifers),” and it’s one of the few NYU undergrad journalism classes that focuses on new media.

I sit in Professor Quigley’s class unsure of what to expect. As a member of Generation Y, I am in touch with what my peers find popular — the Internet, iPods, flip-flops, cell phones, etc. — but as a social media maven on the Internet I am an exception to the other 15 students in the class.

I am not a typical Quarterlifer. Yes, I have a Facebook account. But I also do so much more. I have a personal blog (which includes videos), I use the popular microblogging service Twitter, I am a blogger and web video correspondent part-time for Mashable (one of the top blogs on social media), and I assist heavily with the social media/marketing department for Classic Media, Inc. (a family programming company). I am deeply involved in social media, new media, technology, “the move to digital” — whatever you want to call it.

Over the past two years I have been watching as magazines and other publications have taken hard hits economically while trying to migrate online. I have heard Jay Rosen speak about blogs and how important they are for citizen journalism. And in 2008 I made a decision to try to stay ahead of the game by joining the “early adopters” of the digital era.

Disappointment at NYU

What is so fascinating about the move from print to digital is the freedom to be your own publisher, editor, marketer, and brand. But, surprisingly, NYU does not offer the kinds of classes I want. It continues to focus its core requirements around learning how to work your way up the traditional journalism ladder. Here is the thinking I find here:

1. Get an internship at a magazine or newspaper. “This is good for your resume.”
2. Bring the New York Times to class. The hard copy. “It’s the only way to get the news.”
3. Learn how to write for a magazine or newspaper. “Writing for blogs or websites is not journalism.”
4. Become an editor at a magazine or newspaper. “This is the only respectable position.”

Obviously, I am being a bit facetious here, but the truth of the matter is that by the time my generation, Gen Y, gets into the real world there will be a much higher demand for web-savvy writers and thinkers than traditional Woodwards and Bernsteins.

I was hoping that NYU would offer more classes where I could understand the importance of digital media, what it means, how to adapt to the new way of reporting, and learn from a professor who understands not only where the Internet is, but where it’s going.

This class, “Reporting Gen Y,” focuses more on how to write for “the book” (i.e., a magazine). It looks at whether Generation Y is really unique and distinct, and if so, in what ways. This semester my class will examine various aspects of Gen Y life from “emerging adulthood,” to relationships, technology, work, and politics.

In defense of my professor (who is very talented and has written two books, which include extensive research on generational issues), this course does not claim to be a new media class or to teach about digital or citizen journalism. So I am in no position to complain. But in defense of my peers at NYU, I think that such a modern and open-minded school such as ours should give us more options.

The Only Blogger in the Room

The first thing I notice when I walk into the class is that there are 14 girls and two boys. Already NYU is dominated by females, but the journalism department is exceptionally estrogen-infested. Professor Quigley begins by explaining how blogs are becoming more important and asks if any of us have a blog.

One hand slowly rises. It’s mine. None of the other students in the class have a blog. It comes as a shock to me that the students in a class about “how our generation is very much invested in the Internet” are not actually as involved. Again, perhaps I am an exception to the norm, but I like to think that having a blog is as normal as having a car.

What surprises me further is when Professor Quigley informs us that people actually get paid to blog. That they make a living off of this. For me this was very much a “duh” moment and I thought that it would be for the rest of the students as well. They should be fully aware at this point that blogging has become a very serious form of journalism. Furthermore, they should be aware that it is the one journalistic venture that requires little or no ladder-climbing. You can start at any age, with almost no experience, and actually get published instead of fetch coffee. Luckily, Quigley is one of the few NYU professors who understands this in some way.

On other subjects, however, I found Quigley lacking in understanding. Again, I don’t expect her to be an expert on the world of social media, but for some reason I am unsettled at the thought of having a teacher who is teaching me about the culture of my generation. For example, she said one of the character traits of our generation was an unwillingness to interact with people face to face because we “spend so much time online.”

In my experience, the Baby Boomers often think the Quarterlifers are anti-social because they socialize on Facebook and MySpace. I would argue that we actually spend more time interacting with others than the previous generation who didn’t have many forms of communication and typically spent more time sitting in front of the television or with a couple of the same old friends. For our generation it’s easier to get in touch, organize a meetup, throw together a party, ask someone out on a date.

At the halfway point in the class, Quigley lets us go on a break. In the bathroom I run into an old classmate who asks me if I am going to stay in the class. I ask her if she doesn’t like it and she responds that she is worried of it being too “all-over the place” or “disorganized” or “confusing.”

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Frustrated Twitter message during class

I immediately get what she means. This is the first time that Professor Quigley or anyone in the undergrad journalism department at NYU has taught a class on this subject. And we all know that first-time classes are “test runs.” They don’t follow the syllabus too closely and they don’t grade too fairly because assignments are based on different levels of creativity and experience.

My classmate and I had gone through a similar situation just last semester when our professor had experimented with creating a class blog. It failed miserably because the teacher figured that we could be editors and writers as in a magazine. Blogs don’t really work the same way and the articles are certainly not written the same way. This is the same class in which I decided to write a paper on women in technology and how easy and important it is for more girls to get involved in new media. When I pitched this story my teacher wasn’t very convinced that my topic mattered. I ended up publishing it on my personal blog and landing my first job. I got a B on the paper.

Getting Beyond Print

Back in class, Quigley tells us we have to remember to bring in the hard copy of the New York Times every week. I take a deep sigh. Every single journalism class at NYU has required me to bring the bulky newspaper. I don’t understand why they don’t let us access the online version, get our current events news from other outlets, or even use our NYTimes app on the iPhone. Bringing the New York Times pains me because I refuse to believe that it’s the only source for credible news or Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism and it’s a big waste of trees.

At least I had hoped that this class would be more advanced. I hoped that perhaps my teacher would be open to the idea of investigating other sources of news from the Internet and discussing how they are reliable or not. I hoped that she wouldn’t refer to podcasts as “being a pain to download” and that being aware of and involved in the digital era wasn’t just a “generational” thing.

I am convinced that I am taking the only old-but-new-but-still-old media class in the country. At this point I may not learn too much I don’t already know about my generation and where it’s taking journalism. But one thing’s for sure — I’m certainly going to gain some insight into what exactly they mean by generation gap.

Alana Taylor is a junior at New York University, double-majoring in journalism and history with a strong interest in film, entertainment, new media and technology. She currently manages her own blog, and works part-time for both Classic Media Inc. — a production company/distributor of family programming — and Mashable, the world’s most popular social networking blog.