Riding the digital media storm

With the media sector's painful transition to a digital age in full swing, the rules of the game for aspiring journalists are changing.

When I first decided to become a journalist I imagined myself working in a big, busy newsroom, with countless desks, papers flying everywhere and eagle-eyed editors honing in on every character I typed. 

As it turns out the reality is a touch less hot-blooded than I imagined. Far from being the noisy hub of frenetic activity, as enshrined in popular media, today's newsrooms are calmer, quieter and somewhat smaller than I anticipated.

With the media sector's painful transition to a digital age in full swing, where the value of our words is measured in clicks, tweets and likes, the rules of the game are seemingly changing for good.

This anxiety makes it difficult for many an aspiring journalist to get their bearing and find a place to get started.  

Trouble with Twitter

The so-called tech savvy gurus of generation Y are often acquired with this assumed knowledge of everything that revolves around technology.  

Being a 90’s kid, I am one of the millions who joined the social media bandwagon growing up. However, using social media in a professional context is vastly different and entails a steep learning curve.

In fact, the value of Twitter as a viable tool for the newsroom was impressed upon me only when our lecturer extolled its virtues in the classroom. Unfortunately, the enthusiastic introduction to the professional value of social media isn't always accompanied by hands-on training. 

Perhaps, there is an assumption in some quarters that today's students are innately capable when it comes to harnessing the powers of Twitter, Facebook and Google . That's not an accurate position because while Social Media News suggests that just over 2.1 million Australians are on the Twitter not everyone knows how to use it.

Blogs vs News

Writing and creating blogs are becoming increasingly popular but the ubiquity of online publishing now means that anyone can become a journalist. But is content published on personal blogs constituted as “news”? Will the future of journalism be diluted by the rapid rise of blogging? 

Every aspiring journalist is straddled with this conflict, as we ponder where to draw line between personal opinion and informed reportage. The debate isn’t so much about the validity of one form over the other but rather how much value is imparted to the audience. As writers our job is to provide the audience with a service and value that could well dictate the future of this profession in the age of pay walls.

Print to web publishing

The primacy of technology and its transformational impact on print journalism has not only affected formats but also production values. The online news cycle is a merciless taskmaster and hence the days of single deadlines have been consigned to the past. Journalists' today operate on multiple deadlines and often have to file different prose for both a company’s online and print publications.

As a result, journalists are often forced to cling to readily available information – such as press releases – to meet the challenge posed by online publishing.

This is one of the main challenges aspiring journalists need to realise if they do make into the industry. They will be expected to produce more content, at faster rate than any of their predecessors have done in the past.

Multiskilling

Gaining the knowledge and skills and being able to use various technologies is becoming vitally important in the changing technology world.

The idea of just ‘writing for a newspaper’ no longer exists. Today’s journalist need to be equipped with a raft of skills that range from graphic design to creating video clips. These days it’s all about using other media to digitally enhance the content on the page.

For a journalist with 40 years’ experience under their belt, adapting to new technologies can be daunting. Unfortunately, technology isn’t going to stop and wait for anyone.

Hope for journalism?

Technology’s disruptive effect on the journalistic profession is growing, and it’s only set to get more intense.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of this transformation is that it’s unpredictable. Nobody knows where technology is going to take journalism next. Harbouring ambitions in journalism these days is akin to navigating uncharted waters.

But there is an inherent excitement attached to this endeavour. The journey may be long, it will be difficult, but you push on knowing that after years of riding rough seas there’s always the possibility of eventually hitting smoother waters. 

Christine Assirvaden is a second year journalism student at Monash University and an intern at Technology Spectator. 

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