Journalism: What’s changed and what hasn’t in my 30 years in the business

Gone are X-Acto knives and fax machines but not our truth-telling mission

Kristal Brent Zook

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An early byline in my Hollywood High School newspaper

Journalism is an ever-changing, volatile profession right about now. Nothing is as it was when I started out some 30 years ago. To start, there was more money in the flush early 1990s. More time, too. Time for leisurely Manhattan lunches with editors; time to toss ideas back and forth, in-person, talking them through and brainstorming. Writers often have just a germ of an idea and need help flushing it out. For me, there is nothing better than working with a smart editor who knows exactly which river to lead you to.

Now, beginning reporters had better be good at the art of the cold-pitch email to make it in this leather-thick-skinned industry. We’re on our own most of the time, and the job of flushing out a good idea falls squarely on our shoulders alone. On the plus side, this also means that our amazing ideas don’t necessarily need an editor’s approval to make it into print.

Then, of course, there’s less paper nowadays — certainly a good thing for the environment. Still, I’ll always be a fan of the occasional hard copy and writing for traditional (we call them “legacy”) print outlets. Later this summer, for example, you can find my essays in an upcoming special issue of LIFE magazine on newsstands. (Has anyone even seen a newsstand lately? I saw one at CVS, but that’s about it.) I’m sworn to secrecy until it’s out, but let’s just say it’s on a subject matter that I know many of you ADORE. You’ll want to keep a “hard copy” on your living room coffee table, too.

But legacy outlets aren’t the only game in town these days.

Today, I tell my journalism students at Hofstra University to study bold upstarts like Medium, founded in 2012, where I’ve written quite a few pieces in recent years. Like this one about how to fund your next book project (hint: not through publishers). And this one about the dangers of the strong black woman syndrome. I even brought my seven-part series on multiracial identity to Medium when things went sour at a prominent legacy outlet that shall remain unnamed. My husband “claps” 50 times for my posts, by the way, but you don’t have to do that many. Unless you…

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Kristal Brent Zook

Award-winning journalist/professor; race, women, justice. My latest book is #1 in New Releases for Mixed Race/Multiracial! Order @ thegirlintheyellowponcho.com