At the age of 12 I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I watched the Today Show as I was eating breakfast and getting ready for school. I watched the evening news as my mother got dinner ready. I was in awe of the reporters telling stories from all over the world. That’s what I wanted to do.
I did it. I went to school. I got a degree in broadcast journalism. I studied newspaper journalism. I wrote for our university’s student-run, independent daily newspaper. I had multiple internships. I was ready.
I graduated from college 14 years ago. In the time between deciding what I “wanted to be when I grew up” and then, the journalism industry has changed drastically. It has changed even more since graduating.
Fourteen years ago there was no such thing as a smartphone, but now it’s being credited with saving journalism. Frank Rose writes in his piece, “How the Smartphone Ushered In a Golden Age of Journalism,” “Statistics from The (New York) Times say roughly half of the people who read it now do so with their mobile devices, and that jibes with figures from the latest Pew report on the news media broadly.” In fact, the Pew report indicates that people with smartphones are reading more news than ever before.
Additionally, reporters are using smartphones to help them tell a story. They can take pictures and video to place into their pieces. They can look up data and information while on the road – and even place a call using the same phone. Once the story is written – which can be done on that same smartphone – the reporter can share the story using social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
Clay Shirky suggests current journalists “get good with numbers” – in other words, focus on data journalism. “Learning to code is the gold standard, but even taking an online class in statistics and getting good at Google spreadsheets will help,” Shirky writes. He adds journalists should learn to use social media not just to share their stories, but to help cultivate them. Use the platforms to gather story ideas and sources. They can also be used to crowdsource photos and multimedia that can be used in their reports.
But with more businesses foregoing the traditional newspaper and television ads in exchange for far less expensive online advertising and even building their own apps, the funding to support these endeavors is falling by the wayside.
Gannett announced this summer it is spinning off its print business, separating it from its broadcast business. This has free-fall written all over it. The New York Times quotes Craig Huber, an independent research analyst as saying, “It makes it a more risky portfolio because they don’t have a digital segment to fall back on or TV stations to fall back on. They are probably going to feel more pressure as a stand-alone newspaper company.”
So newspapers fall apart and leave us looking at all of our news online. Is that bad? Shirky suggests in his piece “Newspapers and the Unthinkable” from 2009,
“Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.”
How do you do that? How do you strengthen journalism? Outlets need to look at and change their funding mechanisms. They need to give their reporters and editors the support they need. And they need to be aware that the audience they have had will likely be further splintered. But people still want to read good reporting, and that is why this industry will survive. Will it be as robust as it was 20 or 30 years ago? No. Andrew Leonard writes in Salon, “In her book “The People’s Platform,” Astra Taylor reported that one 2011 study found ‘44.7 percent fewer reporters working in the [San Francisco] Bay area than a decade ago.'”
But will journalism survive? Of course it will. Will it look even more different than when I was a 12-year-old eating cereal watching the Today Show? You betcha.