Steve Jobs and business of inspiration: A lesson for journalists

When was the last time you inspired someone?

I thought of that question while reading the many tributes to the last Steve Jobs this week. Those recollections prompted me to tweet:

“Steve Jobs’ greatest accomplishment was inspiring the kids who one day will make stuff 1000x better than anything Apple has done so far.”

Steve Jobs’ Apple products help inspire my son to fall in love with computers, photography and filmmaking. The elegance and ease of use of Apple products helped my son to see past the technical hassles that frustrated so many others’ attempts at digital creation in the past and to focus instead on the joy of expressing himself in communication with others.

I know toddlers who play and explore with iPads, even before they can walk, and elementary students who think nothing of creating sophisticated digital cartoons and short films. I know grown-ups who listen to more music and read more stories (yes, including news!) that they did before, thanks to Apple products developed under Jobs’ stewardship.

With all those people reading, shooting, thinking and creating, I believe that it is inevitable that some of them, one day, will create new digital technology that will surpass anything Apple created under Jobs. Perhaps it will be current Apple engineers who carry on Jobs’ legacy. Perhaps it will be some toddler with an iPad. But inspiration cultivates creative expression. It cultivates engagement and advancement. Jobs’ ultimate legacy therefore, is not a collection of cool consumer products, the iTunes store, or even Pixar Studios (yeah, he founded that, too). Jobs’ legacy is inspiring a digital generation to connect and to create.

So what about you? Journalism can be an inspirational craft. Are you inspiring anyone with your work?

I’m not talking about getting grateful notes from a source or advocate, thanking you for publicizing their cause. I’m talking about writing words or shooting images that grab someone who didn’t care about something, and by doing so, making them care. Making them care enough to connect with others and to create something positive in response – whether it be a change their own behavior, jumping into a political campaign or even making some inspirational creative work of their own.

Don’t let work cripple your vision, leaving you focused only on filling space on a page, cranking out a certain number of blog posts or booking a budgeted amount of income. All those are important, sure, but if you really are inspiring people with your work, the words, the audience and the income will follow. Jobs didn’t just create inspirational products; he built Apple into one of the world’s largest and most lucrative companies by doing so.

That’s a lesson too many journalism managers have forgotten. I’ve been re-reading several Carl Hiaasen novels over the past weeks. A passage in “Sick Puppy” stands out:

Five years ago most of those kids would have jumped at the chance to return here after college and join the paper at a humiliating salary, just to get in on the action…. [But] they know the people who run most newspapers no longer seek out renegades and wild spirits, but rather climbers and careerists who understand the big corporate picture and appreciate its practical constraints. Kids… know that most papers are no longer bold or ballsy enough to be on the cutting edge of anything, and consequently are no damned fun.

Are you having fun?

If not, make a change. It’s time to go inspire someone.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at