What’s journalism’s future? Does it have a future at all?
For the last four days, a very mixed bag of veteran journos, aspiring freelancers, impoverished writers, students, film makers, trouble makers and even the odd academic have been meeting at the Storyology conference in Sydney, trying to work out where journalism is heading. Talk was seasoned by the knowledge that even some of the more famous, who came along to chair sessions, had recently found themselves going nowhere; redundant as a digital tsunami rolled through their mainstream media. So much of the conference buzz was really about “How do I make a living?”, in a world where tech nerd start ups were eclipsing century old newspaper mastheads.
They were told to learn, evolve and take control.
Aron Pilhofer, Editor in Chief of the Guardian Digital, believes too many journalists have been vainly trying to shove “newspaper shaped packages” into digital space. He’s been re-organising what was the prestigious, British based Guardian newspaper, to address the new media’s global environment.
“Your jobs, like it or not, are going to fundamentally change,” he said.
At the Guardian he had merged traditional desks into a “digitally oriented” Guardian Visuals desk with its own editor. It co-ordinated graphics, interactives and motion design. “Its an attempt to take all those building blocks of digital story telling and put them in one place,” Pilhofer said.
The future of journalism would be data driven. “Newspapers have been trying to compete with start ups like Buzzfeed or Twitter with one or even two arms tied behind their backs,” he said. Journos would need the old habits of questioning and criticising. But they would also have to deal with “the suits”, learning data analytics to identify, reach and interact with their audiences. This would generate a new range of newsroom jobs including:
- Interactive designer
- Editor, audience development
- Editor, news analytics
- Digital cartographer
- Data visualisation specialist
- User experience specialist
- Editor, data projects
- Editor, product and partnerships
So what am I going to do in this digital future, people ask me? Pretty much what you do now but better. I say relax. We just need an open mind.
Pilhofer said journalists should remember that there would be continuing demand for traditional journalism skills; great reporting, great editing and great story telling. “Those things are not going away. Audio, video, text, still images, moving images : all of those things are fundamental to great story telling, even if they have roots in traditional news.”
We can either get ahead of it now, while we still have some control over the process or we can wait and allow it to control us. I prefer the former because its [change is ] inevitable. There’s no world in which all of a sudden 25 year olds are going to start reading newspapers again. Even if they did, advertisers are moving away from print as fast as they can.
Pilhofer cited Journalism++, a coalition of new tech start ups committed to traditional journalism ethics and standards. They called themselves a network of for profit companies, operating from six different cities, “joined together in the coolest franchise of data driven story tellers”. They had even produced their own manifesto:
We are News nerds. We are journalists, developers, designers or project managers who share a common passion for news and technology,.. We believe in journalism. We do not think that automation can replace journalists. We believe that humans can be the best of storytellers. But their work can .be transformed for the better thanks to modern technology. The Journalism++ Manifesto.
What advice did Pilhofer have for those who wanted to become journalists?
- Pay attention to the fundamentals, reporting, editing and writing
- Focus on skills whether thats video, audio, code or data visualisation
- Develop and excel in a specialisation, “anything that will set you apart”.
“When I hire someone, I want to see something that’s exceptional and that’s hard to find,” he said.
So had all of the old days gone forever? What of the journalists’ tried and tested technique of getting drunk in pubs with their contacts? “That hasn’t changed at all,”Pilhofer said. “Its just harder to expense that these days!”