Monday, May 23, 2005

Converged news, standalone journalists and pay

Fellow journalism blogger Doug Fisher posted a comment this weekend regarding my recent post about the converged newsroom. Doug wanted to point out the work being done at the Ifra Newsplex at the University of South Carolina. And Doug is right. If you're looking to build a multimedia newsroom for the future, take a look at the Newsplex.
Speaking of converged newsrooms, there was an interesting post in the blogsphere this weekend about editorial staffers in the new, multimedia environment.
At Businessweek's blog, they seem to be worried that the demands of producing content in a variety of media formats may lead to the "death" of the beat reporter. Their thinking -- born of a lunch with an unnamed media executive -- seems to be that multimedia skills are so time-consuming, difficult and specialized that some new breed of highly paid super producer must emerge. Such people would have little time for traditional reporting.
That's nonsense.
Multimedia is not difficult. It's not time-consuming. Any knucklehead can master these technologies. You can't demand a salary premium for skills that are in abundance. I'd predict that within another year or so almost every entry-level journalist you could find will have the skills to work with audio, video, digital photos, etc. etc. etc. If anything, that would push salaries lower. There is one core journalism skill that determines salary -- storytelling. If you can acquire information and then present it in a compelling fashion, you are worth more than the person who cannot. That is true regardless of medium.
On the other hand, I think Businessweek's Stephen Baker is dead right about the type of person who can succeed in this new environment. "They will know how to harvest the knowledge of experts and citizen reporters alike, and will fashion new journalistic products out of various media. They will have entrepreneurial skills and many will create their own brands," Baker said.
That's as good a description as you'll find of the standalone journalist. And as I've said before, B2B journalism is particularly vulnerable to competition from such people.
For another look at Businessweek's take on the converged newsroom and the reporters of the future, check out Jeff Jarvis' post.

4 comments:

Clyde Smith said...

Paul, do you actually do any multimedia? That stuff's not easy to master at a professional level.

Do you even do much with html? Even that's not so easy.

I'm really curious as to your actual experience with these areas because I've done enough to not really buy what you're saying about the ease of multimedia.

It's a lot of work to get that stuff right. And, to be perfectly frank, most reporters I read seem to be covering topics that go beyond their actual knowledge. So, besides the traditional MJ and the new media demands, I think journalists need more education anyway.

But I'm most curious about your hands-on experience producing multimedia.

Paul Conley said...

Hi Clyde,
That's a fair question.
My multimedia experience isn't as extensive as that of many other folks. And in a business that changes as much as journalism does, my skills become out-of-date quickly.
But here's a brief summary:
When I was a producer at CNNfn.com, we tried to create multimedia packages of several "major" stories per day. In addition, we repurposed several weekly shows into Web-based products. The most extensive of these involved the "Business Unusual" brand. We worked with audio files and video files everyday. We also did some work with graphics, mostly creating charts related to stock prices. We worked with remote-controlled cameras, video-editing software, etc.
At Primedia Business, we rebuilt and relaunched more Web sites than I can remember. A good portion of those (maybe 20% or so) had some sort of multimedia component. We used some in-house and some off-the-shelf content-management systems. Some had some pretty decent multimedia capabilities. But my work there was more supervisory than hands-on.
At Bloomberg, we used proprietary software to create electronic "tours" of graphics, charts, audio and video files to run with our stories. I did that work everyday. On rare days I also worked with the robot cameras in the newsroom, recorded sound files, converted radio reports to print versions and vice versa.
And way, way back in the ancient days, I did a little bit of work at television and radio stations owned by the University of Missouri. So I can even white-balance a camera and edit recording tape with a razor blade. But I suppose those skills are no more useful today than being able to lay out hot type.

Clyde Smith said...

You've obviously done a lot. In fact, you seem to have an exceptional range of skills, far beyond most people and not easily acquired.

I'm surprised that you made light of the difficulties of taking such things on, given your extensive knowledge of such activities.

I've been in basic video classes and watch how people struggle with simple projects. I struggled with simple projects. I've also spent a lot of time learning html and it was no small thing for me.

I find that a lot of people who are good at things like writing don't take to technical stuff all that easily, partly due to how it's taught. I'm just concerned when someone adds to their difficulties by making light of them.

Does that make sense?

Paul Conley said...

Hi again,
I don't mean to imply that it was easy for me to pick up multimedia skills. Some of it was tricky for me. Html, for example, drove me crazy. And I'm grateful that I seldom have to work with it today.
However, I maintain that the next generation of journalists has this stuff in its blood...or should.
Just as an example -- when I went to journalism school, I learned to resize photos with one of those crazy tools with the dials on it (I don't even remember the name of the thing.) It made me crazy. I hated to do it, and I seldom did it well. In fact, the whole layout process was very hard for me back when we did such things on paper.
But I knew that I NEEDED to know such things if I didn't want to get pigeonholed as JUST a reporter or JUST an editor.
A young journalist today doesn't need to know any of those ancient skills. But he does need to know how to use Photoshop and similar software programs. That stuff is now required for all of us, because there's no such thing anymore in journalism as doing just one thing. The good news is that young journalists are learning such things at home, long before journalism school, by playing with digital cameras, iPods, etc.