Sunday, October 24, 2004

Print v. Electronic -- Some thoughts

I was just going to add a comment to Tecla's earlier post and to the comment from the concerned high school student, but this is a subject so dear to my heart that I wanted to do a general post so that more people would see it.

First, you must understand that I am Exhibit 1 for crossing media. I started in radio (all-news KYW as summer help and after a short stint in Dayton out of school, moved to WOWO, another 5o kw Westinghouse powerhouse), moved to TV where I was an assignment editor and producer/anchor (and reporter/shooter when needed), then to a newspaper, where I covered environment/transportation/urban affairs and legislative matters, and then to 18 years at AP, where you do print and broadcast. I now blog and code Web pages, do a monthly column for press associations in various states, etc.

So I find this concern often expressed that somehow there is this gulf between print and electronic to be piffle. Those who stick to that belief are looking to become obsolete. Consider that ESPN expects its talent to also be able to contribute to its magazine and Web site, when necessary. CNN expects its talent to be cross-media when required. One large chain I know is preparing to make its broadcast reporters in smaller makets also shoot much more video and file for its Web sites, the latter of which requires print knowledge (by smaller, we're still talking Top 100). The Tribune Co. encourages its print reporters to appear on TV, and they do in greater numbers. During the early days of the Iraq war, at least one Chicago Tribune reporter was doing video phone reports. And scan some of the job ads -- more and more are requiring a commitment to work across media (it is actually being written into some performance reviews).

Now, TV is not print and print is not TV, and the Web is a little of both but its own thing as well. Darn few are going to become Jedi masters of all of this, and they shouldn't. For some further info on this, look at the Lessons from Newsplex series on my Web log, Common Sense Journalism. But shifting among them need not be all that difficult.

Why do I say that? Because for years, the AP hired primarily print people and gave them shifts on the broadcast desk. It still does. If you join the AP, chances are that within the first three months you will pull some shifts on the state broadcast desk. (Probably night shifts.) And for years, I and other news editors and broadcast editors (some, but not all, of whom were former broadcasters) effectively trained those AP people to produce serviceable broadcast copy.(Your reward for all this? Significantly higher salaries in the $600+-a-week range to start and quickly rising to almost $1,000.)

Is it polished? No, often it isn't. Is it usable? Ask the thousands of stations that still "rip and read," including our own SCETV Radio. Is it "TV"? Hardly. But it gets used by TV stations. And then again, much of TV isn't really good TV ... and video on demand is going to radically change its model in the next decade, which could mean much diminshed roles for anchors. (Check out WXXA in Albany that allows you to assemble your own newscast, or Feedroom's video on demand.)

So my thoughts:
  • Anyone who wants to be successful in journalism in the future still should get really good at one or two things. (If you want to do broadcast, for instance, learn how to do TV really well; if in print, learn multiple writing styles and, just as important, learn how to drill down deep into information fast.)
  • But you also need to be familiar with the other aspects. If you are a print reporter on a story, you will need to develop a visual eye. It not only will help your writing, but you might also have a photographer with you who shoots not only stills but video. Both of you working together instead of staying in your own "silos" will produce a much more effective story. If you are a TV reporter, you need to think about the Web and maybe print. You need to get more information than that 15-second SOT. Getting documents might be very important for the Web, where an interactive database using data you've gathered might be the better "story." And who do you think is writing those "headline" crawls? Both print and broadcast may have to think in terms of "sound," as the Web turns into the new radio.
  • The key term for the new information age will be rapid relevance -- the ability to get relevant information to your audience quickly and in whatever form that individual consumer desires. That means learning still other new things that we just now are exploring -- moblogging, effective link discovery/sorting/presenting, etc.
Little of this is here yet. But then again, the Web really wasn't "here" until a decade ago. And digital video is just becoming "here" at many stations. And newspapers didn't think they had to publish continuously on the Web or "daypart" information, both of which are becoming more common. You're training to get a job now, but to thrive in 10 years. Are you willing to take the chance?

As for salaries and job prospects: Sadly, it remains true that if you expect to get rich quick, go into biotechnology or some similar field. Lee Becker at the Unversity of Georgia, does annual surveys of the journalism job market. Here's the latest headline: Job Market for Journalism Graduates Remains Weak
The median salary has remained steady at about $26,000. Broadcast salaries remain among the lowest starting salaries (link to report on "salaries by employer type" (PDF document)).

Now, having said that, let me leaven it with this: The reason to go into journalism is not the writing (or the money), but the reporting. The writing is a tool, albeit an important one, to convey that information. You must love to get information -- to have doors slammed in your face, to be told no, to press on because finally getting to the bottom of it is an adrenaline rush. And we're not talking just investigative reporting here. Any story, if done well, has some aspect of that. In TV, it may be as simple as capturing just that right visual. But the principle is the same across media -- the true pros know how to get just the right stuff, no matter what medium they are working in.

I have seen too many who got into it for the "writing" only to fail to understand that reporting underpins all the writing, and when they came to realize that, it terrified some to the point close to nervous breakdown. Others rose to the challenge.

In college, take challenging courses. Stay alert. Know what's going on in all of journalism. Snatch at whatever opportunities come along to broaden and deepen your knowledge so that you get better and faster at what you do. Do not be myopic. In any field, those who really know their stuff will always do better because they will be fast and accurate. Maybe not at first. But in the long run, the race goes to the swift.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen and amen, Doug. For the record, I'm Brock Meeks, chief Washington correspondent for Having reinvented my journalism career more times I can remember, from print to online to TV to finally a combination of all those, I can tell you that to stay "alive" in this business, in this time, a journalist, regardless of their background or status, needs to keep learning and evolving or simply face getting left behind.

I work side-by-side with the correspondents for NBC Nightly News, the "stars" like Pete Williams, Andrea Mitchell, Bob Hager and Tim Russert from Meet the Press. I remember the day I walked into the bureau eight years ago, MSNBC was still shaking out the cobwebs from just having launched and broken the CNN monopoly on cable news.

One of those big "network stars" cornered me having just seen a live shot I completed and said "You're the future... TV and web. We're the dinosaurs on the network side."

But you know, they really aren't. Where those network stars used to balk at rewriting their Nightly scripts for the web site, now they embrace the chance, especially the NBC News foreign correspondents. Often they can get a story on the web (complete with video) that the network simply doesn't have the time to run. And knowing that million-plus people are reading those web stories doesn't hurt their exposure, either.

I'm now learning to shoot and edit video as well as stills. I'm not just submitting story ideas to my editors, I'm submitting story packages, words, pictures and video.

Tell all those j-students that all the time they spend out there with a DV minicam, a prosumer digital camera and laptop cutting the tape, editing the photos and slapping them into 3 minute RealAudio video spots pays off down the road. That "sweat equity" pays off in skill levels that others just aren't going to have.

It's not easy but it's incredibly powerful story telling and whether that story is in a downstate market or the top 50 national markets, it IS all about the research, the people and warp and woof of what makes our world tick.

Brock N. Meeks

7:20 PM  

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