Monday, February 12, 2007

Evolving Jobs: Tasting the "Flavors" of Web Journalism

If we ask ourselves which J-schools are doing a good job of training young journalists on hot new Web technologies, as Amy Gahran did in her recent Tidbits post, we should also ask this crucial related question: What jobs are they graduating into that may require those skills? After all, what good are journalism training grounds if they don't prepare the next generation of journalists, at least in some measure, for the realities of the fast-changing media business?

One smart perspective on the Web-work landscape comes from the Columbia University School of Journalism, where they've been thinking a lot recently about how to better reflect the Internet in their journalism curriculum. (Disclosure note: As managing editor for Columbia's Carnegie-Knight News 21 project, I'm an adjunct there.)

According to Sree Sreenivasan (the J-school's dean of students, Poynter columnist and tech reporter for WNBC-TV) there are three "flavors" of Internet-related jobs that students or alumni are or will be doing. Some of these are familiar, while others are entirely new to our profession.

The first, the model described by Sreenivasan as continuous news, entails providing multiple stories of varied lengths at deadlines across the day. That's the all-too-familiar wire service style of reporting upon which many journalists have cut their teeth for decades. As one smart Gannett editor puts it, "We now write for the Web and edit for print."

Next, there's the editor-host model. Here the journalist works inside the newsroom most of time. This job is about synthesizing, analyzing and displaying (in timely fashion for online audiences) content from myriad information sources: newswires, the Internet, video, audio. (To that list, I'd add user-generated content.) This is very much an editing role; some have likened it to a typical newsroom copy desk role. I think the editor-host model acknowledges the increasingly collaborative nature of online journalism. Today, writers, reporters and editors work together with visual journalists, graphic designers, programmers, technologists and others to realize the final product.

Sreenivasan's third model is probably the least common, but in the long run may become the most important to the development of a unique Internet form of journalism. He calls it the Webified reporter.

A kind of one-man band, the Webified reporter is able to apply multiple Web tools -- from reporting to videography to Flash -- to create original content that takes full advantage of the medium's interactive multimedia capacities. Not only does the Webified reporter knows how to use these tools, but also when to use which tool for a particular Web story.

Sreenivasan's take was amplified at a recent Columbia gathering. There, some guest editors added to these three "flavors" by recommending that online journalists should have business-related knowledge and a general utility that could prove vital to surviving the maelstrom that has become the news business.

For instance, Bill Grueskin (managing editor of the Wall Street Journal online) told the gathering that he'd like to see more incoming journalists who understand traffic and user navigation patterns for news Web sites, and how that relates to profitability.

"Journalists can no longer afford to put blinders on about that side of the business," he warned, "not as shills for the advertising department, but to help in turning unsuccessful enterprises into successful ones."

Pushing the notion of utility was Wilmington News-Journal's managing
editor Pankaj Paul, whose Gannett-owned paper's newsroom is now well into a 24/7 online experiment. According to Paul, there's no "online operation" in the newsroom, as such. "The entire room is the online department. Everybody writes, shoots, audio, video for Web. Every manager in the newsroom posts to the site. It's not one person's job to get content online. It's everyone's job."

Looking ahead, I believe it's in the interest of our profession to better understand the categories of jobs being created by online media. The "flavors" discussed above are limited largely to what mainstream media is trying to do online. And even in those settings there probably are more approaches.

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