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Home > Publications > Quill > The New Darwinism


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Monday, March 3, 2008
The New Darwinism

Multimedia means opportunity, not hassle

Clint Brewer

The clichés about change in our culture are inevitable and endless. Over the past decade, the affirmations of change in the world of journalism have become almost as replete.

Now, it appears there are three things certain in this life for journalists: death, taxes and video.

In this edition of the Quill, we delve deeply into the issues of multimedia in our news operations; more specifically, mobile (or backpack) journalism. Mobile journalists, or “mojos,” have the skills to file stories at any time from anywhere in a variety of electronic formats.

SPJ as an organization is also delving deeply into the issues surrounding the use of multimedia in our professional development efforts and outreach to the American public. Our series of 12 newsroom training sessions around the country this year offers multimedia training. Our Washington, D.C., annual convention kicked off that trend, offering numerous programs designed to offer practical advice and address the concepts of online and multimedia journalism.

SPJ is also taking the message of ethical journalism to the streets this year via our Citizens Journalism Academy, a series of events across the country designed to explain to citizen journalists the tenets of ethical, quality journalism.

The thought process for journalists of all ages and disciplines is that the ability to publish across a variety of digital formats is an opportunity, not a roadblock.

Democratization of news

In his famous business book, “The Long Tail,” editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, Chris Anderson, expounds at length on the Internet’s “democratization” of the tools of publishing. Though it is a business book, Anderson’s work is a must read for any journalist who wants to understand the impact of the Internet on not just journalism but on the media and consumerism in general.

Anderson explains how journalists at major media companies or network television stations are no longer the only ones with the physical ability to publish. Any citizen with a personal computer and an Internet connection can publish content in dozens of ways, including blogs and video.

The issue that is often missed is that this democratization has also happened within the world of journalism itself. The walls are being broken down between broadcast and print journalists. Increasingly, the tag of being an “online” journalist is also fading, as all journalists become online journalists.

What does that mean for local journalists in their newsrooms?

It means that broadcast journalists — radio and television — can reveal their talents not only through their host of daily broadcasts but in the written word online via blogs or news stories.

Some television stations have experimented with video journalists, uniting broadcaster and camera operation by simply giving a broadcast journalist a camera and sending him into the field to report.

In the world of printed journalism, newspaper newsrooms large and small are becoming as focused on their Web sites as a delivery platform as they are the printed paper. Newspaper journalists who never saw the other side of the camera unless they were a pundit on a news broadcast are now using cameras and audio recorders to augment their storytelling abilities.

In addition to all of these trends, there is also a growing world of niche publications, covering some of the traditional media’s most important beats: sports, government, politics, crime, courts and business. The Web-based entities are also beginning to attract journalists from larger, mainstream publications.

Managing opportunity

All of this newfound ability means little for the industry unless it is embraced by the business side of the media and individual journalists.

Truly good reporters will pursue new ways to tell stories to their audience, not shun these new methods.

Editors can embrace these same changes by looking at them as the great equalizer for their teams against the trends they have been combating for so long.

Newsrooms managers at all levels should look to the new media as a way to deliver eyeballs to their companies — readers and audience share that has been slipping in terms of paid newspaper circulation and television viewers. We have all read the industry reports of shrinking audiences. It is a widely accepted notion that the quality of content online is what drives readership and traffic. Newsroom leaders should be confident that they have entire teams of superior, professional journalists to provide content for the Web.

The simple fact for journalists everywhere is that the advent of the Internet and concepts such as backpack journalism mean our business has changed. This sea change is no longer the New Media, but rather a New Darwinism for journalists. The lesson here is simple: adapt or die.

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