Conversations about the future of journalism often focus on the demise of the industry. I do not argue with the fact that the industry is undergoing a dramatic transformation, an uncertain future. Digital media has allowed a once passive audience to become active consumers and producers of information. An active audience demands more of journalists, one factor leading to an upheaval of traditional journalistic routines. But who says the “old way” is the correct way?
Richard Gingras, director of news and social products at Google, summed it up this way during his keynote at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC): “I often sense that people believe that the challenges facing journalism are all about the business model, and more importantly, that somehow the foundation of the prior journalistic era, the newspaper business model, was somehow etched on tablets brought down from the mount. This is not the case.” Read the full text of his speech here.
Some journalists lament the dying of this “old way.” Indeed, digital media has been disruptive to the work routines of reporters. My research, presented at the conference, suggests reporters’ daily job responsibilities are evolving in three areas as a result of digital media: newsgathering, dissemination, and the relationship with the audience. This disruption, however, is not necessarily negative.
The emerging tasks do not render traditional journalistic values obsolete. It is quite the opposite; they are needed now more than ever. There are encouraging findings from my research and other studies presented at the conference: the public still views journalists as an authoritative source. While the results are not generalizable, my case study found that the public is turning to reporters to make sense of the sea of “noise.”
In terms of journalism education, there are a number of takeaways:
>> Just as reporters must step out of their entrenched routines to be successful in a digital environment, journalism curricula must be flexible enough to prepare budding journalists for the real-world scenarios they will encounter. Of course, an emphasis on traditional journalistic values as well as multimedia newsgathering and dissemination skills are critical. The two-way flow of information between journalists and an active audience is perhaps the most significant change in journalism that educators need to address. Managing online relationships with the audience, sometimes non-journalistic in nature, is an important area in which budding journalists need training.
>> Interdisciplinary courses related to technology and society, as well as computer-mediated communication, would be beneficial in helping journalism students understand the “open” system and how people use technology.
>> Infusing new media into lesson plans goes far beyond teaching students how to create multimedia stories and disseminate content over multiple platforms. A more holistic approach is to use social media tools such as Twitter or Pinterest, for example, to create virtual learning environments that augment the classroom experience. This recommended method requires that journalism instructors experiment with the tools their students will be expected to use when entering the job market.
>> Innovation should be encouraged, if not rewarded!