The Future of Journalism (and my career) is in Cambridge

About six months ago I took a big leap, leaving a good job, stable paycheck and measure of security behind me. When I left the Press Herald I didn’t know what I’d wind up doing next, or where.

Well now I know. This story starts with an email I received while sipping a margarita on a beach in Florida in May and ends today. I’ll save you the unabridged version and get to the point.

To paraphrase one of the more disastrous job announcements in recent history:

“This fall I’m taking my talents to Cambridge and joining the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Jim Gray: “Nieman Journalism Lab, that was the conclusion you woke up with this morning?”

Sorry, that could go on forever.

Creative Commons image from CC Chapman

I’ll be joining the team at the Lab to write about the Future of Journalism. What does that mean? It’s writing about new business models, exploring innovations in newsgathering and new technology helping reporters and editors. It means talking to the people deciphering the state of media today and trying to transform journalism.

It means having a fundamental belief that journalism will actually have a future.

If you’ve checked out the lab recently (and if not, do so now), they’ve been studying things like the role of SEO and metrics in online news and the pitfalls non-profit news organizations face in becoming sustainable.

To say these are questions I’m deeply curious about would be an understatement. To say it’s something I’m passionate about would be spot-on.

For most journalists looking ahead goes only as far as the next day’s assignment or deadline. It’s not often we get a chance to step back and say “how are we going to make this thing not just survive, but become better?”

It’s an exciting opportunity to do work that has a real affect on journalism, not to mention a chance to work at Harvard University. (I’ll try not to bring the collective IQ down…too much.)

Sadly, what this also means is my time living in Portland is coming to a close. Portland was my first home as a “real” adult. I got health insurance (thank god), bought a real car here (Sorry Pontiac Sunfire and Ford Taurus, you were deathtraps and you know it) and lived sans-roommate for the first time.

And, luckily enough, I met a woman whose love of college basketball, 90s hip-hop and pop culture matched my own, and became the foundation for an amazing relationship. (And made a home for two tiny dogs.)

What I discovered here was a welcoming town that taught me as much about where I live as who I am as a person. With my family 1,500 miles and a time zone away, the many good friends I made here have become an extended family. (Albeit one with a lot of crazy cousins, loud aunts and drunk uncles…but in a good way) You put up with my pop culture references, my devotion to bacon, my baking and my at-times laconic nature. (Not to mention my sports-related meltdowns, which are increasing in frequency thanks to the Old Gunslinger)

Escaping Maine wasn’t my first thought when I left the Press Herald. But if you’re in the journalism game you always know that relocation could be on the horizon for the right opportunity.

Opportunity was the reason a guy from Minneapolis, left Missouri and took a chance on Maine. And if Harvard calls (or emails, as in this case), that’s a pretty good opportunity.

The good news (aside from, you know, employment) is that I’m not going too far. Just a short bus/car/train ride away, along with the lure of Sox/Pats/Celts, concerts and more. And naturally, IVY LEAGUE SPORTS! (Yale has been added to my list of natural enemies, behind the Green Bay Packers and the University of Kansas).

The other good news? Since I made a big production out of my “early retirement” at the beginning of this summer, we have no choice but to kick out the jams on another outstanding party. If it can top the bacon/bourbon-fueled insanity of “Stay Classy,” I don’t know. But we can try.

My “Summer of Unemployment” (as some of you took to calling it. Thanks guys.) is – thankfully – over. Considering the overall job climate (not to mention the prospects for journalists) I count myself as lucky.

As much as I’ve enjoyed the most prolonged time off I’ve had since the summer of my junior year in high school, I’m ready to get to work.

As a fictional president famously once said, “Break’s over.”

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16 responses

  1. Good luck Justin. While I’m sorry you will be leaving Maine, I’m glad you will be one of the people working on the future of journalism. I feel better about the future already.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:46 pm

  2. I couldn’t be happier for you — and for your new employer. They’re lucky to have you!

    Boston ain’t that far away, my friend, so we’ll expect to see you plenty, here and there.

    [I’m one of the loud aunts, aren’t I? I knew it.]

    September 24, 2010 at 5:04 pm

  3. Erik Schwartz

    Congrats!

    Good luck!

    My next startup is likely to be in Cambridge too (or maybe back in California). It’s really hard to do tech or journalism in Maine.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:11 pm

  4. Good luck to you Justin. I’ve followed you and Amy on Twitter for a long time now and will continue to do so. My only regret at your leaving Portland is that you and Amy did not get a chance to meet my niece. She has much the same interests as you two and doesn’t know many young people there. Anyway, the very best to both of you

    September 24, 2010 at 6:44 pm

  5. congrats! wear that maroon with pride.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:51 pm

  6. Quiet Aunt & Sober(?) Uncle in MN

    We wish you well as you start your new journey within the walls of a fine institution that hopefully will not be tarnished with your presence. We look forward to visiting you in Boston but know that the crazy cousins, loud aunts and drunk uncles from Portland will always be close by and welcomed here as well. You continue to make us proud!

    September 24, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    • Father and Stepmom of said Amazing Relationship

      Just to clarify, although I have a rare occasional adult beverage and occasionally raise my voice when provoked, I (we) do not live in Portland. Looking forward to meeting up with the equally well-behaved MN branch of the family in Boston.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:05 pm

  7. Wow, congrats man. Portlands loss is Cambridges gain. Good luck!

    September 24, 2010 at 8:28 pm

  8. You will be sorely missed around the Peninsula but this is going to be an amazing opportunity. I can officially state that it is only $32 roundtrip for a ticket on Concord to South Station and then a $2 T ride to Central Square. You can’t shake Portlanders THAT easy. :)

    Congratulations and yes…let’s party it up before you head out!

    September 24, 2010 at 8:35 pm

  9. felicitylingle

    Hi,
    I just “discovered” you via The Weekly Dig. I really enjoy your writing style, you are so clear and succinct. Welcome to Cambridge and I look forward to your future blog posts.

    Cheers!

    September 25, 2010 at 1:42 am

  10. Loretta Dumond

    First, congratulations on your decision. Sounds like a wonderful opportunity. I just hope it doesn’t mean the end of your blog. It would be a shame to lose your particular insight.

    September 25, 2010 at 5:19 am

  11. Sweet, let us know what you find out! Good luck!

    September 26, 2010 at 3:03 am

  12. Evelyn

    Congrats! Sorry to see you leaving Maine, but at least you’re still in the northeast. Good luck to you.

    September 27, 2010 at 4:21 pm

  13. victoria ellis

    As always mom is proud of you looking forward to meeting up with all these crazy aunts,uncles and whatnots in Boston. Also where in Mn are these Quite Aunts and Sober Uncles ?

    October 7, 2010 at 5:52 pm

  14. Former Drunken Roommate

    As I said several months ago, Harvard is a no-brainer. We will roast meat and drink much mead when you ride out to LV on your girlfriend’s coattails.

    Also, that Pontiac Sunfire was, as my Grandfather put it when you bought it from him, “A good little car.”

    October 8, 2010 at 5:47 am

  15. Fellow iHerald inmate

    I had no idea sitting next to you that you hated KU. What’s with that?

    I am very pleased for Nieman, good choice!

    We will raise a still-warm-lemony-blueberry-Sally-muffin toast to you in the newsroom.

    October 13, 2010 at 7:52 pm

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