The Changing Newsroom

As someone who has lived through downsizing and cutbacks (when my program was “eliminated” at West Valley College almost 15 years ago) I get sick to my stomach when I read Romenesko and so many other news sources about the continual cutbacks at American newspapers. The human cost is devastating. It would be easy to become discouraged about my profession and decide to retire from teaching.

But I also feel an excitement with change. I know as hard as it was for me to live through that change, I am much better off for having had to reinvent myself. I’m a better teacher today than I would have been otherwise.

So when I read through the recently released report “The Changing Newsroom” I chose to focus on the many positive things the PEW study pointed about the industry as it is being reinvented. It is a study well worth the read.

I especially noted the promising future for our students if we continue to train them correctly. And that means sticking with the traditional values, but mixing in the new technologies.

From the report:

New job demands are drawing a generation of young, versatile, tech-savvy, high-energy staff as financial pressures drive out higher-salaried veteran reporters and editors. Newsroom executives say the infusion of new blood has brought with it a new competitive energy.

The melding of the online edition with the print edition is heavily emphasized in the report. And new skills especially singled out were the ability to shoot and edit video, web-only editing and blogging the news.

From the report:

The content lost in the print version of the story doesn’t always disappear completely. Instead, much of it migrates to the web as beat reporters write these minor twists and turns of a running story either into their own blog or as short, stand-alone website stories

And:

Today, editors said they no longer ask reporters if they have time to file for the web before embarking on their story for the print edition. Filing first for the web is a given. Editors also noted that exclusive material is no longer kept off the web as it was just a few years ago to protect the print edition impact. Today, it is posted immediately…. All (are) encouraged to be “web-first” thinkers on breaking news and visuals.

Something I haven’t thought too much about that made a lot of sense was the advent of micro-sites.

From the report:

Another change afforded by technology is the ability to target specific audiences with specific content. Much effort is aimed at shaping content for a range of very narrow, specifically tailored interests—giving readers news of their community, their favorite sport or their preferred leisure time activity. … Often this is reflected in so-called mini or micro sites built as distinct pages within a paper’s main online website. They can be tailored to events in specific communities or neighborhoods or to other narrowly focused interests….One in three papers surveyed report they already have micro-sites and say they are planning to add more, while another 21% say they are developing them.

It was interesting to see that others are facing the same issues we face as we go online. The print edition is still the dog that wags the tail of online: Most editors (63%) say they still focus more of their time on the newspaper than the website.

One last striking note was the number of editors who, while staying somewhat optimistic, admitted that they had no idea what their product would look like in five years. That’s a tough one. I know for us at the college level we likely will have print editions and given then fact that education has a history of moving slowly, our print editions will probably look a lot like they do today. But what is interesting is thinking about whether our online editions will look like they will today. I certainly hope not.

I found lots of interesting ideas in this report, some of which I’ll share after I give my students first crack at them.

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