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Sree Sreenivasan is a professor and Dean of Student Affairs at Columbia Journalism School and contributing editor at DNAinfo.com.
Ask a journalist about the state of the media and the answer you get may range from dire predictions about journalism’s imminent demise to cautious optimism. The doomsayers point to falling newspaper circulation, fragmenting TV audiences and the 18,000+ jobs lost in 2009. Sites like PaperCuts, which painstakingly tracked those job losses (and has already noted 815 losses for January of 2010), and Twitter feeds like TheMediaIsDying, help reinforce the notion that the American media is, well, dying.
For the optimists, this is an exciting time of great opportunities, with more media being created and consumed than ever before. Here’s part of what Joshua Micah Marshall, creator of Talking Points Memo, told the graduating class at Columbia Journalism School last year:
It’s the people who are entering the profession right now that are going to create the editorial models, the publishing models, the business models, that define journalism in the 21st century.
And that is something that’s exciting, it’s a challenge, which, in my mind, totally outweighs the bumps in the road, the instabilities, and the lack of security that journalists face today that maybe they didn’t 20 years ago.
Of course, no one knows for sure exactly where we are headed, but this seems like a time when preparing to deal with the changes ahead would be a good idea.
And that’s what Mashable did earlier this week with its fourth Mashable NextUp NYC, as part of Social Media Week. Held at the 92YTribeca — the hip, downtown version of the venerable 92nd Street Y of the Upper East Side (“free Wi-Fi” announces a chalkboard at the door) — the event attempted to look at the changing media landscape and the evolving role of journalists in it. When Mashable’s Adam Hirsch asked former contributor (and my student at Columbia J-school) Vadim Lavrusik to do a public conversation with me on the topic, we decided to bill it as “The Future Journalist: Thoughts from Two Generations.”
The Tra-digital Journalist
Once upon a time, I used to be a young, fresh-faced journalist of the future, so it horrifies me that I’ve turned into the voice of an older generation. But Vadim is an example of what it will take to succeed in the future: a balance between the traditional values and skills of journalism, and the digital skills and mindset that are so critical these days. My colleague, Sig Gissler, administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, coined the term “tra-digital journalist” and it describes Vadim and so many other young journalists today (be sure to read his Mashable post on 8 Must-Have Traits for Tomorrow’s Journalist, which served as a backbone for our discussion).
The concept of the tra-digital journalist is among the many ideas we discussed and we’ve put together our slides below and also have a Twitcam live-streamed video of the conversation.
Here are some of the other key concepts that we discussed:
The Fundamentals Are Critical
Despite the importance of technology, it’s the fundamentals of journalism that are still critical. The fundamentals include: great reporting and writing, journalistic ethics, specialization by topic or beat, investigative skills, news judgment. Also invaluable, critical thinking and critical reading — too many journalists don’t pay attention to either.
The Future Journalist Is…
We identified specific digitally-oriented skills and traits a future journalist would need. These include being:
- a multimedia storyteller: using the right digital skills and tools for the right story at the right time.
- a community builder: facilitating conversation among various audiences, being a community manager.
- a trusted pointer: finding and sharing great content, within a beat(s) or topic area(s); being trusted by others to filter out the noise.
- a blogger and curator: has a personal voice, is curator of quality web content and participant in the link economy.
- able to work collaboratively: knowing how to harness the work of a range of people around him/her — colleagues in the newsroom; experts in the field; trusted citizen journalists; segments of the audience, and more.
We discussed some business-ish skills and traits that are going to be useful.
- an entrepreneurial spirit: having an experimental open-mindedness, being an innovator.
- being entrepreneurial within an existing company: you don’t have to be at a startup to be entrepreneurial; there might be a lot you can do within some large corporations.
- business savvy: understands the business of his/her industry; understand value of content; understand new media business models
- knows & embraces metrics: understands the value and danger of metrics; studies today’s major metrics tools, Google Analytics, Omniture, Nielsen, Bit.ly, etc
- thinks “Career Management,” Not “Next Job”: understands value of thinking long-term; thinks strategically about career choices; keeps re-tooling
Be a Permanent Learner
Most journalists don’t appreciate how much better they’d be at their jobs if they were constantly learning new ideas and skills. Such a learner’s media diet may include:
Being on deadline or in crisis mode is not the time to try and figure out new technology. When the plane lands in the Hudson, it’s too late to figure out Twitter. When your company starts layoffs, it’s too late to figure out LinkedIn. Start carving out time to learn new concepts and tools.
Wouldn’t be Mashable if we didn’t talk about social media. Using the syllabus of my Social Media Skills for Journalists course (developed with adjunct professor Adam Glenn), we outlined what social media can do for journalists:
- find new story ideas, trends and sources
- connect with audience(s)
- bring attention and traffic
- help them create, craft and enhance their personal brands — this point is absolutely essential for journalists to grasp. Once upon a time your work spoke for itself. Nowadays, there’s too much competing for everyone’s attention and you have to make sure you get your work out there and get it noticed.
Smart journalists understand that social media is for listening, not just broadcasting or sharing what’s on your mind.
Mashable’s Convening Power
As with most events these days, I learned much from the audience Q&A and the networking sessions before and after the talk. My boss, Nicholas Lemann, Columbia J-school Dean and New Yorker contributor, often talks about the convening power of a place like our school: the ability to bring together influential people to have important conversations. I saw up close for the first time Mashable’s in-person convening power, having experienced its online convening power for a long time now. Attendees included a cross-section of folks doing some of the most interesting work in media today. And, as you will hear in the video, many people in the room knew more about the topic that I did, including Edelman’s Steve Rubel and members of the Mashable editorial team (who, in some ways, are living prototypes of tomorrow’s journalists).
The Folly of Predicting the Future
As we say in the slides, the social media scene today is where radio was in 1912, where TV was in 1950, where the web was in 1996. A lot of wonderful opportunities and terrible mistakes lie ahead of us. Predicting the future of journalism at any of those points would have resulted in a lot of wrong predictions back then. While we are sure many of our predictions are going to be wrong in specifics, we have the chutzpah to presume they are right directionally. We welcome your feedback and input.
Connect with Vadim Lavrusik on Twitter (@lavrusik) and via his blog, Lavrusik.com and his new project covering startups in New York City, NYC3.0.
Connect with Sree Sreenivasan on Twitter (@sreenet) and via his Facebook tech tips page, Facebook.com/SreeTips. His columns about the media and technology run in DNAinfo.com, a Manhattan news site he helped put together with Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts (whose family just bought the Cubs and Wrigley Field). The syllabus and notes for his Social Media Skills for Journalists course is at bit.ly/socmediaskills and his workshops collection is at bit.ly/workshops. On Friday, Feb. 5, 2010, he is hosting two free webcasts, Basic Twitter for Journalists and Advanced Twitter for Journalists, one of them featuring Mashable founder Peter Cashmore. Details and archive at bit.ly/columbiajtw2.
Image courtesy of 92YTribeca in New York City
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Tags: journalism, Journalist, media, nextup-nyc, social media week