Who Are You?

Last night I attended a forum at the University of Florida entitled “The Future of Journalism.” A bright group of SPJ students, accompanied by writers for a campus alternative publication, The Fine Print, organized the event, which included a panel of UF professors and staff members, as well as North Florida Herald Publisher Ron Dupont.

The basic idea was simple: these future journalists know what is happening in the industry, and they are scared and seeking advice.

Good thinking.

I’m not going to recap the entire discussion (which was great), but I did want to address one question that arose with an answer that didn’t. The question was: “Who is the journalist of the future, and what will he/she need to do?”

Lots of good answers were given, mostly related to being a “Jack of all trades.” I agree completely. Future journalists must be familiar with a range of technologies and mediums — including video and audio capturing and editing — while maintaining excellent writing skills.

What wasn’t mentioned, though, was perhaps the biggest change many young journalists are undergoing right now. It’s not enough anymore to write a story and then hide behind a black and white shield. More and more, newspaper reporters are being asked to cultivate a public persona, and they are doing this in several ways.

  • Facebook — Many reporters are now being required to sign up for Facebook and to post status updates about the stories they are working on to attract readers. They are also encouraged to “friend” sources and readers, effectively breaking down Fourth Estate walls that have no place in this digital era.
  • Twitter — Twitter is being used by several newspapers and their reporters as a two-way means of communication. Not only is it used to attract readers to the newspaper; it is also used as a means of attracting sources from a local audience. Before, reporters would scour their Rolodex in a desperate attempt to find a person who likes jogging and listening to music at the same time for that weekend feature. Now, with one post on Twitter, dozens of fresh sources come out of the woodwork, giving the story a new edge with previously untapped voices.
  • Blogs — While it is my opinion that blogs can be overused by newspapers, it stands to reason that some beat reporters should have one. Health reporters, for instance, can use their blogs to get the word out regarding the latest update to hospital procedures or for H1N1 vaccination locations. Unfortunately, because many newspapers panicked and required everyone to have a blog, some of the worthwhile posts can get buried beneath a pile of unworthy ones.
  • Podcasts — Again, beat reporters can use Podcasts as a means of telling a feature story or as another way of conveying that Q&A piece in the newspaper. Readers like to hear the voices of their storytellers and newsmakers from time to time. Transparency always enhances credibility.
  • Live blogging/forums — Reporters are beginning to live blog events as the events are happening. Additionally, they invite readers to join in the conversation, allowing them front row access to an otherwise inaccessible event. Readers can post questions for the reporter, who can either answer or ask the questions him or herself.

All of these new roles are expected of young journalists who join newspapers as beat reporters. It is now a requirement that you get your name and face out into the community and break down the barrier between the reporter and his/her audience.

Young journalists are the best equipped to do this, as most of them are very comfortable using social networking software, and they are not set in their ways about being removed from the community on which they are reporting.

So, young journalists, when you are out doing internships and applying for jobs, make sure you list these practices among your skills. Take the initiative and make a name for yourself early so you can be indispensible later.


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