the Future of Journalism Chapter 10 of 10: Journalist of the Future By Gerry Storch

Posted on February 29, 2012



— Going the Tradigital Route

— New Journos Better Be Versatile

— Readers Become Part of the Show

Let’s meet one … a journalist of the future, only she’s doing it right now. She’s Kirsten Miller, senior Web producer and interactive manager for Fox Chicago News.

Are you ready? Here’s what she does.

“Every day changes … this is the news business, after all. But every day I know I’ll have to do the following:

• “Ensure our site is up to date.

• “Manage a team of Web producers and coach them.

• “Think about how to improve our site strategically (design, usability, search engine optimization).

• “Plan and execute a way to build more traffic (i.e., find a way to get our stories in front of eyeballs that don’t come looking for us).

• “Work to tell stories in new, different, engaging and interesting ways.

• “Monitor search patterns on Google and Yahoo! to ensure we have what the people want, or to see how to push a story further.

• “Write, edit text, edit photos, edit video.

• “Read industry sites to stay on top of trends and best practices.

• “Work with other departments on sales, marketing or promotions initiatives.

• “And I know, without a doubt, that I’ll be thrown a curveball with news, so I will have to ditch my to-do list and roll with whatever comes my way.”

Whew! But how do we get from the past to the present to the future? – By becoming a tradigital journalist

That’s a “traditional journalist with a digital overlay,” says Sree Sreenivasan, dean of student affairs and professor at Columbia Journalism School and one of the nation’s leading theorists about the future of journalism.

The Traditional Part:

“A great deal is the same” about being a journalist, says Mike Hoyt, executive editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. “The job is still to figure out what is significant and interesting … and go report on it and tell stories. Now we have an array of ways to tell the stories … but the baseline is still intellectual honesty. Learn the new tools but don’t be hypnotized by them. Learn the old tools, too.”

Dr. Cassy Burleson, a professor in the department of journalism at Baylor University, says old skills that are still needed would include “accuracy, objectivity, creative interviewing, writing and the ability to think on the fly. Journalists have analytical skills and think multi-dimensionally to sort information. They still need to know that putting some extra miles on the shoe leather … both at the computer or out on the street … is important. And they have to be fast AND good. Not just one or the other.”

But being stuck in the old ways …

“Old-school journalists, while a good lot, are feeling the change because they haven’t figured out where this ship is headed and if they have a seat onboard,” says Paul Swider, a former St. Petersburg Times reporter.

“That’s to be expected in any transforming industry. My father was a hot-type printer from his early teens and managed, without a college degree, to move with the industry to cold type and even to photographic processes before he retired in the ‘80s. He couldn’t embrace digital technology, but that was mostly because he’d found a niche and was biding his time until retirement, something a lot of journalists are doing now. If you live through a critical point in your profession, you have to adapt or move on.”

To Bob Garfield, co-host of the “On the Media Show” on National Public Radio and author of “The Chaos Scenario” about journalism’s transition, “mine is the last generation of a population of highly compensated, full-time journalists.”

With the demise and shrinking of newspapers and magazines, “we’re going to lose a horrifying amount of experience, judgment, talent and sort of the culture of journalism which for the most part made it a very ethical enterprise. (With the loss) of tens of thousands of journalists, we’re also losing their sense of how to stay relatively pure. While the Web offers a certain amount of transparency that maybe the old media obscured, there will be tremendous pressure to give positive coverage to people who are paying the bills or to suppress negative coverage about people paying the bills and to give certain people special treatment and certain people not, and that is a huge risk.”

Mitch Joel has been described as Canada’s rock star of digital marketing. He’s president of Twist Image, a Digital Marketing agency based in Montreal, and author of “Six Pixels of Separation.”

Do young people have worse communication skills than previous generations? Joel says no.

“New technology always pushes us to say people are stupid, they’re doing less .. but to be polite and kind, that’s total BS … When I was a young guy, I came home from elementary school and threw my schoolbag down in the hallway and ran in front of the TV and watched Batman until I was drooling out of one side. I wasn’t engaged. (Now) I look at my 14-year-old niece who comes home and who’s got a laptop and a Blackberry and an I-Pod and she is typing and reading and creating content … she’s got multiple windows open … she’s doing video projects … she’s creating audio .. she’s uploading pictures, sharing images … I don’t think I read (back then) a tenth of what young people are reading today. It may not be on paper as much but they’re reading more than they ever have before. They’re better communicators than ever before. They may say BRB instead of be right back but they are using technology in ways we never would have imagined.”

The Tradigital Way:

“Even as little as five or six years ago, it was enough to be one kind of reporter,” says Chris Brown, the National Press Club’s vice chairman on new media and professional development. “It was enough to be a TV reporter, or be a print journalist or work for a wire service or be on radio … but unfortunately that’s not the case anymore.

“The firewalls between the newsroom side and the interactive side have really fallen down. If you’re going to do a story, you need to produce it on several levels. It could be as simple as shooting video while you’re doing interviews for your print story or tweeting about a breaking story as it happens … you need to manage to tell a story on different kinds of formats. And it may be a different story in different formats.”

Prof. Burleson finds that “today’s journalists are convergent journalists. They can find the story on Twitter, write the story, shoot Flip video, post it on the Internet, upload it to the page … then go live from the newsroom on the next newscast. And then dialogue with reader responses. We don’t have a 24-hour news cycle. We have to tell it as it happens. Not easy.”

Jody Brannon is national director of the Carnegie-Knight News21 journalism initiative at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

She tells us, “Online journalism to me is the deepest, richest of any journalism. When it’s done well, it engages the eyes, ears, mind and soul more fully than the others since it can combine appropriate and judicious use of elements of audio, video, text, graphics, interactions, interactivity and … the most powerful … visuals, taking into account layout, design, headline font, style and placement in light of photos, graphics, etc.”

Denise Polverine, editor-in-chief of, the most trafficked news and information Web site in Ohio, notes that “the great thing about the Web, you can incorporate multimedia into your storytelling with the use of photos, text, interactive polls, charts and graphics and video and audio.”

Even more so, this process is two-way … far more than with traditional media: “It is also rewarding to provide a platform on which the community can participate and post their comments, photos and opinions. News is no longer just a one-way street. … A student needs to show that they can create a website, write a blog, upload photos, shoot a little video and tell a good story. A student also needs to know that the audience is now a big part of that story.”

John Yemma, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, has seen first-hand how versatile his staff had to become as the paper transitioned to online only during the week while retaining print for the weekend.

“While all journalists will have to think multimedia in the future, some will naturally be more skilled at one medium than another,” says Yemma.

“A photographer may be especially good at web video, for instance. An investigative reporter might excel at databases. A graphic artist may be drawn to mashups and interactive applications such as Flash. And one of the most valuable new skill sets is the hybrid journalist/developer who can build new storytelling tools on the fly. But the core function of the news operation will still be reporters who dig up information and present it to the public.”

Will learning these new skills be easy? Bill Handy thinks so. He’s a visiting professor of journalism at Oklahoma State: “The new skill sets are actually very, very easy. Being able to shoot video in today’s day and age is phenomenally easy. Just point and click. Writing a blog … how difficult is that? It’s super easy to blog. If you can type, you can blog!”

And what about the newsroom of the future? It will be a far different place than the traditional newsroom with first its array of typewriters, and then computer screens, amidst a bunch of messy desks and cigarette butts.

Chris O’Brien, a business columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, is one of the nation’s leading visionaries about the future shape of journalism. He heads the Next Newsroom Project, which works out of Duke University to plan and create the next generation of news coverage structures

“One of the early insights we had was that there would NOT be a single ideal newsroom, but rather, that we were entering an era of many next newsrooms,” he says.

“These would include everything from metro newsrooms to bloggers to nonprofits to citizen journalists platforms. So the next step was to identify a handful of principles we thought should be embraced by any of those newsrooms:

“1. The newsroom should be multi-platform.

“2. The newsroom should be a center of continuous innovation.

“3. The newsroom should place its community at the center of everything it does.

“4. The newsroom should collaborate with other newsrooms in its local ecosystem.

“5. The newsroom should practice transparency to build and maintain trust.

“There’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to these principles. The key is to figure out how they could be applied to your circumstances to fit the way you’re trying to serve your community.”

Well, the desks might still be messy.

Specific Tips For The New Journos: Here are some ideas from our esteemed panel for training to get a job, getting a job and succeeding in it …

Chris Brown: “Certainly if you don’t know how to shoot video or edit video, you have to learn, as video is now a part of this experience in a very rich way. People like to see whatever video you’ve shot because they like to see what’s going on … see the unspoken characteristics in video that are difficult in the print setting … people can live it and experience it for longer than the few minutes it took to read it in the paper. (Also) you can tell a great story in 1,000 words in print … you have to also learn to tell it in 140 characters on Twitter. You always have to be thinking about what’s the next skill to learn.”

Thursday Bram, a prolific freelance writer: “There is a major stylistic difference between writing for print and web: length is the most obvious example. Articles written for the web can be quite short … despite the fact that there is more room for a lengthy article online than in print, many readers find it harder to read long articles online.”

Sandra Ordonez, site designer/communications consultant/all-around technical whiz for OurBlook: Writing for online is “completely different. For the Web, you have to write fast, and you have to be as direct and to the point as possible. I treat writing for the Web like writing for people who have a severe case of ADD. Your headlines have to be very informative and catchy, and you need to pack as much information in as few lines as possible. Additionally, you should be able to link your article/piece to other useful and pertinent articles/web pages. Having a traditional journalism background helps, but you need to complement that with a knowledge of search engine optimization, knowledge of audience online behavior, and speed. Additionally, I would say that web writing can be much more informal and (IMHO) allows for more comic relief.”

Prof. Handy: About the comment box at the bottom of online stories … “Some reporters are using this wonderfully … there’s a reporter at USA Today who does a wonderful job of engaging his readers, then taking his readers’ comments and going back in that story and reporting over and over again.” Instead of walking away from the story after you’ve written it, go back and read the comments “and if someone is asking for more information, that’s your audience … provide it to them and I guarantee to you under this new culture, this two-way culture we now have, if you do that, these readers will continue to need you and continue to want you.”

Bob Garfield: “We’ve going to have the greatest reservoir of journalistic content ever produced … from amateurs and hobbyists and passersby and semi-professionals and professionals. An extraordinary amount of reporting, of opinion, investigation and hyperlocal coverage we never had in the old world order. What we are gaining are the eyes and ears and ingenuity of untold hundreds of thousands or millions of people (new journos and citizen journos).”

Prof. Sreenivasan: ” ‘Thought leader, social media expert, guru’ … don’t put those in your bio … let other people call you that.”

Prof. Sreenivasan: “Earn every reader … one of the things you can find out on Twitter is why someone leaves you.”

Prof. Sreenivasan: “Clear subject lines in an e-mail … this is something very basic, … I send a lot of e-mails, and you’ll know what my e-mail is about without even opening it.”

Jacky Myint, interactive designer for MediaStorm, a website sponsored by “I think it helps to do know both design and programming. Even if you’re working purely on the web design, it’s important to know what one can or can’t do with the code.”

Jennifer Sizemore, vice president and editor-in-chief of “Students need to have open minds … to what, how, when, where journalism should happen. That is the No. 1 character trait I look for in job applicants. I’d get experience doing whatever I could get experience doing. The grounding in the basics you get working at a newspaper … and insisting on being involved in the paper’s website … is invaluable, wherever your career goes. And broadcasting gives you similar grounding in the basics of video storytelling and speedy newsgathering.”

Kirsten Miller: “Be resourceful. Wear a lot of hats. And try new things. Report well, shoot video, gather audio, write well, edit for AP style, know some HTML or CSS. The more skills you possess, the more valuable you’ll be to potential employers. Also, I have a lot of students who remind me of my parents when it comes to technology, and it surprises me. Everything I know about code or technology, I learned on my own. I wasn’t afraid to break technology and that’s how I figured it out.”

Sandy Ordonez: New journos “need to have a solid foundation in the following:

• “Writing for the Web (both being able to identify topics and style).

• “Search Engine Optimization.

• “HTML.

• “Social media and community management.

• “Production (video, slide shows, and graphics, etc).

“These are basics. There are many additional skills they can add to their repertoire, which will be determined by their interest and/or work opportunities.”

All content in this “blook” has been written and assembled by Gerry Storch, editor/administrator of, a public affairs discussion/media analysis site that bridges the gap between a blog and a book. He has been a feature writer with the Detroit News and Miami Herald, Accent section editor and newsroom investigative team leader with the News, and sports editor and business editor for Gannett News Service. He holds a B.A. in political science and M.A. in journalism, both from the University of Michigan.