JournaLISTs

What does it mean to be a Journalist in 2019

There is a whole list of responsibilities that comes with being a journalist today, that did not even exist two decades ago.

I became a Public Affairs Broadcast Specialist (aka Broadcast Journalist) in 2014 through training at the US Defense Information School.

My class learned broadcast writing and announcing for television, radio, and how to shoot and edit news and feature packages or documentaries.

(Private First Class Savanna Clendining, 2014)

Another class, known as the Public Affairs Specialists, were photojournalists. They learned how to compose photos and write for print.

I did not learn how to write for print until taking journalism classes in college in 2015 and 2016. It was also not until then that I learned strategies to compose a Tweet, or how to use social media to generate ‘clicks.’

Journalists are expected to do significantly more than they were five, ten, and twenty years ago. Here’s a short list of ten things we, the public, expect from them today.

1. Writing

Writing still is and always will be the cornerstone of journalism. According to Bright Network, print competes with online written articles such as blogs and social media posts. However, it makes more sense to think about it all working together. John Oliver explains that television and online media companies cite information from newspapers very frequently, and without print news, there would be no basis from which digital news could build. A journalist must know how to write, to do so coherently, and to do so quickly.

2. Photo

“Pics or it didn’t happen,” right? We, the digital consumers, expect journalists not only to tell us what happened, but also to show us. Apps and websites like Instagram have changed the culture of journalism, making pictures an expectation, according to Bree Wild of City Journal. Since George Eastman’s work, photos have always been a journalist practice along with writing – it is not a new expectation.

3. Video

“Any technology that can capture footage and collect data with great mobility at a low cost will always be attractive to media professionals,” Melissa Rowley writes for Cisco. Today, there are so many cameras available to journalists and also to everyone, that it is an expectation to include video whenever possible with a story. Cell phone cameras are everywhere, Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras almost all shoot video now, and GoPros and drones make taking video anywhere even easier. The journalist must find a way to integrate their story with the video footage collected.

4. Social Media posts

What news company does not have a Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account? It would be tough to answer that question, where would you look? You can find all of the major news companies on these kingpin social networks. But why? One answer is because that is where their audience is. Billions of people have accounts on these networks, and it is free to view content posted by the news companies. This is a new expectation for journalists, and a time consuming one. Not only do they have to write the story, but they also have to re-package it into a social media savvy piece that will grab the attention of as many people as possible.

5. Responding

This is a major reason why Social Media posts are time consuming for journalists. The story doesn’t end once it is published. Now, journalists are expected to respond to comments, update the story in real-time, and if necessary, do their own damage control.

6. Live blogging or reporting

I’ll let The Guardian, the world’s number one journalism source, talk this one. “‘Live blogging’ is becoming increasingly prevalent across news sites. Somewhat taking its shape from the over-by-over or minute-by-minute text sports commentary, these are rolling articles on a topic updated during the day as a story unfolds. There seems to have been a particular focus on them for this year’s [2016] election campaign. At The Guardian, Andrew Sparrow has been leading the way.” Journalists are expected to keep the facts up to date in real time. The best way to do this, currently, is to live blog, live report at events, and use video stand-ups to constantly stay on top of updates. Digital consumers expect instantaneity in society now and journalists must live up to that expectation or they will be viewed as slow and outdated.

7. Stories

One way for journalists to continuously update a story is to use the “Mobile Story Formats” feature available on most social networks now. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, notably allow short story clips to be posted to an account for anyone to view.

8. Podcasts

Sam Dolnick, New York Times writer, explains that the Times “made a major push into audio because [they] saw a giant opportunity to reinvent [their] journalism in a medium that is quickly rising in importance. We are living in a world where the mobile phone is dominant, and audio, which doesn’t require your eyes or your hands, is the ultimate mobile medium. [The New York Times] launched The Daily in February [2017], and it immediately became [their] best push toward rebuilding the daily habit of print reading. It’s really working. The Daily was the top downloaded podcast in Apple podcasts in 2017.” So, now journalists need to learn the audio editing world of digital media and try to re-package their message without visuals.

9. Unbiased, non-partisan responsibility

Here’s a list of ethics that journalists follow, without contract, which can be summarized in one word: truth. Journalists are taken seriously if they follow a moral and ethical code, consistent across the board for all media. Nothing says they have to, but it is clear when there is a violation of a moral or ethical principle, and the public is quick to notice a journalist’s faults. They are expected to be the moral standard for society.

Interestingly, CareerTrend.com has a different idea about the journalist’s code. “The overarching ethics of journalism should not override each individual journalist’s personal ethics and conscience. A good news agency should allow reporters to have differences of opinion, as this can lead to more diverse reporting, according to Pew Research.”

Overall, the more bias a journalist allows into their story, the more likely their audience is to label something liberal, conservative, or ‘fake news.’ This limits the audience and corrupts the message being sent. A journalist’s goal should be for both political parties, all races, genders, etc. to read/watch/listen to their story and receive the same information. This is how we maintain the checks and balances between the government and the people in the United States of America.

10. New technologies

Finally, journalists are expected to keep up with changes in trends and technological developments. Here is an example of a job description from a generic job website, TotalJobs.com. Essentially, it leaves room for change. If a new social media app update comes out, journalists are expected to learn and use it right away so that the public can see that it is already integrated into their society, and they will feel better about using something new. Additionally journalists as a whole are working toward incorporating Artificial Intelligence into their process. It is expected to aid in data analytics as well as collecting all of the different parts of one story that are created by different journalists and making them more easily accessible by grouping them together, which will speed up the process for journalists who may not have been on scene to take a photo or video.

Google Images

This list is only one that I made up. There is a lot more to being a journalist, including timelines, late nights, broadcasting live on scene and on set, editing, etc. Let this be only a sketch, or an overview, of a journalist’s duties.

Next time something happens in the world and you get the story from a journalist, please take a moment to appreciate all that is expected of them. He/She/(Other pronoun) made the choice to become a journalist despite the fact that even just 5 years ago there were delineations between each facet of journalism, but now one journalist is expected to be a jack and master of all journalistic trades.

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