Digital Journalism

This refrain is now accepted as fact: “Journalism is changing”.  So, what is a new journalism graduate to do?  Some more experienced people from the business have suggestions on the considerations for those entering the field.

Leonard Witt is a journalist and Chair of the Communications Department at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University.  He also runs the PJNet.org, described as a “clearinghouse for public and citizen journalism”.  Mr. Witt says in a blog post, Journalism wants pitcher to be the catcher too,  that graduating journalism students shouldn’t be disparaged for  wanting to be purely good writers.  He says there will always be a market for that skill, in the literary non-fiction tradition.  While he supports multimedia skills he says that if you try to be everything, writer, photographer, videographer and editor, something will suffer and it’s likely to be the writing.   Herein lies the baseball metaphor that to be truly excellent at your job you can’t be both pitcher and catcher.

On the specific topic of community/online journalism on December 15, Mr. Witt had this to say in a phone interview:

We’re in the middle of a revolution, and when you are, it’s tough to see the end. I don’t ever think citizen journalism will replace professional journalists.We know it’s demanding work, journalists are trained to interview people, connect facts.

WikiLeaks is an example of a provider of the information that previously would only have been passed on through major outlets such as the NYT. Now, this kind of information is being fed to the big outlets.  Digital journalism allows more people to amplify their voice.  Individually each contribution may be small, but collectively there’s a lot more information out there, coming from more areas, so more voices are heard, and those voices, together, are amplified.

I am an advocate of journalism, it’s important to our democracy; whether it is it the journalism of the past, or is it the new journalism.  On a daily basis we need professionals to cover issues and supply information. Amateurs can provide information that can be aggregated, but you still need professionals to do the hard reporting.

(Play video to hear what Mr. Witt says about community journalism.  )

One of Mr. Witt’s colleagues weighed in on the topic of expectations of freshly minted journalism graduates.   Journalism consultant Paul Conley says that not being able to multitask with multimedia will make you a misfit in the newsroom of today.  Here is what he says:

It is a disservice to tell any young person that he can find a job as a “writer” and not have to learn some multimedia skills too. There is NO SUCH CAREER awaiting them in newspapers, magazines, newsletters or television. Even the most talented writers among the class of 2008 will be working in places where they will be required to produce for multiple platforms and do more than write. It’s probably safe to say that no single member of the class of 2008 will spend his career working only in print and only as a writer.

No one is suggesting that a recent grad be a master of all multimedia skills. Heck, I don’t expect a recent grad to be a master of anything. What I’m saying is what I hear every day from my clients and other professionals — a college kid with a resume that could have been written in the 1970s is not worth hiring. I don’t care how well he writes. Writing well is not enough.

Mr. Jack Driscoll also says students should do what they love. I recently had the fortune of interviewing this  legend in the news business.  Mr. Driscoll is currently an Editor-in-Residence at the MIT Media Laboratory.  His work as a journalist includes a 40-year stint at the Boson Globe, seven of which he was Editor.  During Mr. Driscoll’s tenure as Editor that the Globe he oversaw the migration to an online publication.  As a result of this effort the Globe had one of the first electronic libraries in the country.  In retirement Mr. managed the Rye Reflections, a citizen-published online publications based in Rye, NH where Mr. Driscoll now lives.  He also served as an advisor for another online publication, the former Junior Journal, run by children and teenagers located all around the globe.  The book, Couch Potatoes Sprout: The Rise of Community Journalism, is based on his community journalism experience.

When asked if he would recommend or warn away young people from becoming journalists, he said, people do need to be realistic, but ultimately, he wouldn’t discourage anyone.  Mr. Driscoll said he learned that many people who become journalists have a passion and a natural inclination toward the work early on.  He said “[they tend to] have a fire in the belly, passion.”  He also recommends that young people follow their bliss. “You can’t tell where it’s going to take you.  I had no idea about becoming an editor.  Every job I had, even going up the chain, because I enjoyed what I was doing. There are a lot of opportunities when you get out there, and they’re not necessarily apparent.”

(You can read the entire Q&A with Jack Driscoll in a separate post.)

Jason Pramas, founder and Editor of Open Media Boston sees this outlet as an alternative to the major publications in the Boston area.  This independent online outlet provides an opportunity for additional coverage of neighborhoods that may not be as extensively covered as others.  In this way, Mr. Pramas and Mr. Driscoll demonstrate the openings created by the shifts in the journalism winds, but also the way the digital tools make it easier than ever to plug the gaps left in traditional media coverage by dwindling resources and among other challenges.

Several points emerge.  First, new journalism graduates should find what they love to do. The fact that they have migrated toward journalism, they can narrow their passion within that niche.  However, they will need to master the tools to be successful in this new environment.  That part is not an option.  While the new tools  may change the initial attraction of becoming a journalist for just the writing or reporting, there is an upside.  These tools make it possible for there to be more coverage. More people can tell stories, in more ways and from more places, providing coverage for the reasons that the traditional media outlets can’t.  Online journalism, no printing press needed. Find the story, take a video, pictures, click send.

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