If there’s a cancer drug innovation coming down the pike anywhere in the world, you can bet the best oncologists know about it. This same devotion to education holds true for many lawyers, software developers, and any other talented soul who knows that what he learned in college could quickly become obsolete.
Now, it looks like journalists–once notorious for their distrust of new media and the blogosphere–are finally stepping up and accepting that one can’t be a Walter Cronkite or a Bob Woodward if one’s audience is disappearing. And that’s exactly what’s happening. According to a report last week from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, the internet has overtaken newspapers as a leading source of news. Considering the Web’s noticeable jump in popularity even since the 2007 survey, it is not unreasonable to think that television news could be the next victim. Not only does this same survey show television and the internet in a neck-and-neck race for audiences under thirty, but Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that virtually every media sector apart from the internet is slowly losing Americans’ attention.
Each year, the Project for Excellence in Journalism publishes a report on the The State of the News Media. This year’s report includes a survey of 500 journalists on what some fear is a dying profession. Here’s are some of the findings:
Journalists have become markedly more pessimistic about the future of their profession. But their concerns are taking a distinctly new turn. Rather than worrying as much about quality, they are now focused on economic survival. And in that new focus, we see signs of new openness to change.
Journalists are ready — even eager — to embrace new technologies. They think a range of new digital activities, from blogs to citizen media, are good for journalism. They even think, by 2 to 1, that splitting their time across multiple platforms is a positive change rather than a problem that is taking time from their reporting or spreading them thin. These are all attitudes hard to imagine a few years ago.
[L]ook inside what journalists say and they are largely optimistic about what technology brings to the craft. When asked to name what in particular they see as the industry’s strengths, those naming adapting to Web more than tripled among national journalists and increased ten-fold among those at the local level. And near the top of the list are two direct results of technology — timeliness and speed. About one in five name these as something the industry is doing especially well.
The emphasis above is mine. My master’s thesis actually focused on media convergence in student, professional, and mixed newsrooms from 2004-2006. I won’t summarize all 157 pages here, but I will note that as objective as I tried to be, my most frustrating finding was that the biggest roadblocks to creating multimedia newsrooms were the journalists themselves. The old rivalries among print and broadcast people were as rabid as ever, and few of the hardliners had any respect for the Web as a medium (or, more accurately, a vessel for media). I found that perplexing. I’ve always been interested in getting my fingers into all media, so what was up with these curmudgeons being so adversarial?
Well, part of the reason was fear. The term “convergence,” which has since fallen out of use and has found its way to buzzword heaven (or hell), has unfortunate ties to failed efforts to force journalists to do things that made them feel uncomfortable. The idea at a lot of these newsrooms was basically, “we want our journalists to be all-in-one reporters!” I don’t need to explain the potential for disaster when you send a reporter out to be his own cameraman during a hurricane, and I doubt I need to explain how scary it is for a lot of writers–no matter how good-looking–to speak into a lens, knowing that there’s no backspace key for a misspoken word.
Managers came to these journalists with nonsensical figures and charts on paper, trying to convince them that by taking on extra tasks they didn’t initially sign up for (or want to do, or know how to do), they would make their media conglomerations’ market shares skyrocket.
It wasn’t a convincing argument.
A lot of reporters quit their jobs in search of papers and stations that would allow them to flourish in their specific crafts.
But now, with the economy at a low and with so many news organizations cutting jobs, reporters have an even greater fear to worry about: their viability in a market saturated with unemployed talent. And while the circumstances for this new-found acceptance of the Web are less than ideal, the push for journalists to educate themselves on new technologies will surely have lasting long-term benefits for both content creators and consumers.
I can’t stress enough the importance of continuing one’s education even when gainfully employed. I’m convinced that my side-projects during graduate school are what got me my first “real job,” a great gig as a multimedia journalist for an internationally broadcast TV show. And now that this position has ended, I’m equally convinced that it was not just my work there but also my side-projects here and elsewhere that brought me the chance to teach multimedia journalism at Boston University starting this spring.
Over the next few months, I intend to learn more about the development aspect of multimedia journalism (specifically ActionScript and other elements of Flash). How about you?