thoughts on journalism

There’s a production and a consumption, and the currency is a story.

After sinking four years into a journalism degree, I left less sure of the media landscape than I was going in. While my writing skills have improved exponentially and I now have a firm grasp of media law, ethics and the basics — copy editing, layout, reporting, etc., I’m less than sure about how I’ll be asked to apply those skills in the real world.

During my time in college, my faculty was moving the department through an audit and restructuring process to determine where journalism was going and what sort of coursework would best prepare today’s j-school students for the real media world. I don’t have an answer and I don’t think they do either. In fact, the best thing journalism schools and faculty can do is stress the basics — strong writing skills and attention to detail. That, and being an ethical reporter and writer. Checking facts, respecting sources, being diligent about deadlines and not leaving any loose ends. These are the things that make a journalist. A solid writer with a sharp mind should be able to adapt to whatever the industry throws at him or her over the next few years.

People are clamoring for content — they read on their phones, their computers, on blogs and websites and magazines, and yes, newspapers. Print may be falling by the wayside — or changing, depending on the markets and numbers you look at — but we’re reading just as much, if not more. Media is at our fingertips, and the news cycle is literally never-ending. Accuracy and quality have never been more important, and undergrad journalism programs need to ensure that their students understand the importance of producing content that is true and fair.

The Internet forces immediacy on journalists, and while Twitter and social media tools can be useful for small bits of breaking news, journalists are still expected to produce full, unbiased and accurate articles, and that takes time. The race to break news often results in mistakes and/or shoddy reporting. And that’s why I’m embracing the shift towards longform journalism.

We were taught to write features, to take more time with sources, to do days or weeks of research, to dig up old anecdotes and data, all for a rich and immersive story. Features take the facts and bring them to life; they point out the details and ask the reader to linger over the words. Features do not break; they invite.

Longform journalism is having a resurgence, as online magazines pop up and major news sources play with code to create bold, visual reading experiences online. We are slowly training readers to spend some time with a story, even if it’s not in print. Whatever the medium — online, print, digital, letterpress, whatever — we’re still writing stories for people to read. There’s a production and a consumption, and the currency is the story.

Hard news will always take the lead, but if journalists are trained to take care with their stories and produce packages that include photos, video, graphics and more, then perhaps they’ll be more able to adapt to whatever platform the industry throws at them. And journalism programs should introduce these tools to their students, and allow them the freedom to take their stories and bring them to life in ways that fit the target market. An extreme sports feature can employ lots of video, nestled photos and movement; a story about the state of the stock market can probably go straight to print with an infographic and call itself good. All this to say that the core of journalism, regardless of the packaging, is the story and the people and the subject.

Write well, write boldly, write accurately, and they will come.