I knew there would be trouble when I saw the sparkly pink tablecloth.
We were at a career fair at Vintage High School on Tuesday, about 50 employers gathered in the gym, preparing to meet students searching for inspiration (and for ink stamps on a card to prove they had spoken to at least some of the would-be employers).
Employers spanned an amazing array of industries, from the military to construction to county government to media and beyond.
We were each assigned a weathered coffee table to set up as we saw fit. A few people had banners or tablecloths, but I just had a stack of newspapers and a big computer monitor to dress up the Register’s table.
Then I looked over to my right and saw a well-dressed woman open a case and pull out The Tablecloth. It glittered and glowed as she snapped it sharply onto the table, transforming the battered piece of furniture into a thing of beauty. Onto this surface she added flowers, samples of her products, logos, signup sheets.
She even had a perfectly composed bowl of candy.
I had been placed next to the Mary Kay Cosmetics booth, and I knew that there was no way that a middle-aged journalist with a stack of newspapers could outshine that. To my left was the booth for Napa Valley College and, even though they had a lovely green tablecloth, we agreed that neither of us could compete.
And, as it turns out, we were right. The glittery booth was mobbed throughout the day, with young women (and one young man, they later told me) lining up two- and three-deep to talk to the Mary Kay ladies about careers in marketing.
But my worst fear didn’t come true – that nobody would stop by our booth at all. Sure, there were a fair number of students who stopped by just to get the stamp on their cards, but a gratifying number of young people expressed real interest in journalism.
“I like being in the know,” one explained.
Another said she wanted to be an editor at National Geographic, to help explain the world to people.
The chance to travel and tell exciting stories from abroad drew yet another student toward journalism.
To all of them I told the same thing: Journalism is a really great career. Sure, the pay isn’t always great, and people sometimes say mean things about you (or mock you for your inevitable mistakes), but where else can you meet interesting people and learn interesting things every day? In 27 years of doing this, I’ve met presidents and farmers, watched history being made on Capitol Hill and spent a quiet afternoon with a craftsman in a mountain workshop plying the ancient trade of gilding, applying impossibly delicate sheets of pure gold to picture frames and other decorative objects.
Reporters and photographers get to tell funny stories, sad stories, important stories and silly stories. The stories we tell can change the world, or they can just make you chuckle at the breakfast table.
What other kind of job gives you that kind of range? Not many, I suspect.
I told the young people that journalism needs them. The media world is changing, and the old ways of telling stories – and paying the huge cost of gathering and spreading news – don’t always work the way they used to. We need bright, creative, excited young people to help reinvent the media, because the public has a never-ending need and desire for news and information.
I came away from the career fair feeling good about the future and good about the career I’ve chosen. Our crowds may not have been as large as some other tables, but I was impressed by the enthusiasm and interest of the students. They were just as excited about journalism as I was (and still am), so we may be in good hands.
Still, the next time we’re invited to a career fair, I may invest in a good table cloth and a bowl of candy.