We don’t get news the same way we used to. Print newspapers as an immediate source have been replaced by 24-hour news websites and Twitter. Journalism isn’t what it used to be. We spoke with Jeff Sharon, the Course Director of the Digital News Production and New Media Publishing & Distribution courses in the New Media Journalism Master’s program (and a former reporter himself), and he shared with us five ways the traditional journalist’s role has changed in the past few years.
Everyone has to do everything.
Back in the day, writers wrote, photographers photographed, editors edited, anchors anchored, and reporters reported. Now, everyone has to learn to do everything. Just look at what happened at the Chicago Sun-Times. Today’s ideal reporter can write extremely well, take competent but preferably excellent photographs, shoot and edit video, and be an encyclopedia of knowledge on the beat they cover. Oh, and they need to be active on social media, too. The more you can do, the more marketable you are.
It’s not 9-5 any more. News is 24 hours.
Years ago, news happened at regular times during the day. Then cable news and the internet happened. And a new term was born: The 24-hour news cycle. You’re on call 24 hours. The worldwide nature of our society dictates that things you need to know about happen around the clock. It’s not a new thing, but our increased world awareness in the 21st century means that, when news happens, you need to either (a) go cover it, or (b) find someone who knows about it so you can talk to them.
Coming soon: No more paper.
The days of printed newspapers are coming to an end. This is not a new trend. Subscribers are going away, papers cost lots of money to print, and most of them are becoming vehicles for advertisement, with journalism content coming secondary in quantity. Several newspapers around the country have had the foresight to significantly cut back or even completely eliminate their print operation, in favor of digital-first distribution. This reflects the demands of a younger audience, rather than hanging on to the last bastions of old audiences. Indeed, as digital adoption continues to increase, so too will the cuts in print editions of newspapers.
Being right is more important than being first.
In the age of Twitter, the advantage of being first with a story has vanished with one click of the “Retweet” button. No longer does the competition have to wait for the next day’s edition to find out how far ahead you are. The value of being first has decreased. Second, the value of being right has increased a hundred-fold. One small error can compound itself instantaneously, thanks to the eager efforts of would-be investigators lurking in the comments section and armed with instant search. Corrections are no longer an afterthought process – they happen in real time for the world to see. This also means that the audience will penalize wrong reporting harshly. So you had better make sure your reporting is ironclad. If that costs you the extra few minute-advantage of being first, then so be it. At least you’ll still have your credibility.
Good journalism can be done cheaply.
Massive, multi-thousand dollar cameras are reserved for the really big boys. Nowadays, the march of technology has enabled the rest of us to produce amazing quality content. Your iPhone can take high definition video and high-resolution photographs, and upload them to the web in seconds. If everyone has the ability to produce multimedia content, then the determining factor is the quality of that content. If everyone can do it, then you have to be able to do it well.