Flowing with the changes

By Robert N. Jenkins, LifeTimes Editor
Published August 28, 2007

The subtitle of this magazine is "Living well after 50," which should not preclude anyone who's just, say, 48 from reading it.

But we select its content to be most relevant to those in the second half of their lives. With that many years under your belt, dear reader, you understand that times inevitably change, and not always to your liking.

Writing in the Financial Times this month, Peter Aspden offered wry observations on the middle-age man trying to cope with our rapidly changing world. He says that, generally, such men are subject to "ridicule, contempt . . . and sarcastic admonishment" despite the fact that middle age "demands the most delicate of balancing acts as we lean comfily on the experiences of a life half-lived and yet feel the need to look forward to novel challenges. . . .

"We will almost certainly have dealt with burdens and bereavements and have come out the other side, trying to invest emotionally in a future that we now know will turn out to be the usual battered compromise between aspiration and bracing reality."

Typically, we have survived enough challenges and successes to have created an equilibrium.

But the changes keep coming - most often, sweeping over us or past us. The older we get, the more we may feel unappreciated. This, despite our accumulation of wisdom, and more tangibly, of disposable income.

But this month's cover story reminds us that more than any previous generation, we older adults are deciding the direction of our lives. Heading to a college campus for academic instruction in a topic that intrigues or fascinates us, that might even lead to a second career choice, was unheard of in previous generations. College was for kids.

But that was then. The appearance of these educational opportunities on our horizon is also a societal change. And this one is sweeping us along, not blowing past.

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Here's another change to consider. I got an e-mail about 10 days ago from a sharp colleague at another newspaper. She wrote that she was "closing in on 50" and wondered what she should do with the rest of her life: Was journalism still worth her time?

Maybe she should have asked you, not me.

I left my home in Washington, D.C., and went to Michigan State to get a bachelor's degree in journalism. Newspaper journalism, though MSU did offer a radio-TV major.

I was sitting in the journalism building's library of out-of-town papers, reading the Washington Post, when a student sauntered in the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963. He said matter of factly, "The president's been shot," then sat down and opened a textbook.

Like most of the rest of the country, I headed for a TV set to watch the news, live. Seeing the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, live, was a macabre bonus.

But it could have been recognized as a blaring bulletin that papers would soon cease to be the main source of news.

Now, of course, broadcast television has been supplanted as the prime conveyor of news by the 24-hour cable channels and the limitless, if unchaperoned, Internet postings by a million or so "community journalists."

The Times and newspapers across America have been struggling to capture readers and retain advertisers. Reporters are trained to write more concisely and to gather audio and video recordings to post to Web sites.

It is a tough battle, and papers are shrinking in size and staff.

So for my friend who's contemplating her future, what do you think about today's journalism, about newspapers and your multiple other choices to receive news?

And for me and my bosses at the Times, what do you think of the substantial changes we've made in this magazine? I'll publish a sample of your answers, and I'll pass along your comments to the big bosses at the paper, because we're all in this together.

Robert N. Jenkins can be reached at (727) 893-8496 or bjenkins@sptimes.com.

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What's your opinion?

Send comments on journalism to Robert N. Jenkins, Life Times Editor, St. Petersburg Times, 490 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701. Or e-mail bjenkins@sptimes.com and put "Changes" in the subject line.