In 2007, Serra Media CEO Mark Briggs published Journalism 2.0, a popular “digital literacy guide” for journalists (made available as a free downloadable e-book with funding from the Knight foundation). In a just-published updated version of the book, “Journalism Next: A Practical Guide to Digital Reporting and Publishing,” Briggs expands his audience beyond professional journalist to those getting started in journalism or digital publishing: “If you’re a student or just starting out, realize that it’s your turn. Your opportunity may come from a traditional news company, start-up news blog or a new enterprise you launch yourself.” In contrast to some bloggers and social media experts who boldly predict the death of journalism, Briggs argues that now is “a good time to go into journalism.”
In the excerpt below, Briggs lays out his case:
1. Journalism has a bright future
Experimental news operations are popping up all over the Web as this decade draws to a close. Some have become sustainable businesses in a very short time. Others are still searching for viability while finding new ways to cover issues and communities.
In short, the demand for journalism from its audience hasn’t diminished. But the models are starting to look very different.A more narrow focus is required. Think of it as “bottom-up” journalism instead of “top-down.” Technology, political and hyperlocal news sites have been the first to find success by starting small and concentrating on a very specific topic. This, of course, goes against the more general audience publications that ruled the day when printing and distribution monopolies ruled the day.
Unleashed from corporate-run organizations sweating out the quarterly profit margin, the journalists powering these new sites have infused them with a level of energy, commitment and passion that can only be found in a startup company. It’s easy to see how these sites will pave the way for the true digital transformation of mainstream news companies, by finding successful new methods to inform and connect a community online.
Or, in some cases, they will replace them.
2. That future is in your hands
Journalism needs you. It needs someone who can bring a fresh approach without the baggage that burdened earlier generations.
As the institutions that perform journalism struggled economically through the past decade, it became increasingly apparent that the people in charge did not have what it takes to oversee a digital transformation that would secure a viable future. Harsh words, I know. But their inability to put the readers first and use new technology to do better journalism – instead of copying the existing model and pasting it online – created a world where every newspaper Web site is immediately identifiable. Most are disjointed repositories of what a news organization has always produced, with some new twists thrown in for good measure, instead of rich, vibrant information sources their communities want and need.
That’s where you come in. Whether you end up working for a newspaper, magazine, TV station or Internet start-up, you will have the opportunity – make that responsibility – to do things differently. My first job in journalism (part-time sports clerk) was mostly answering phones and doing grunt work where no one asked me about my ideas. Your first job is likely to be much different.
In fact, I’d venture a guess that you won’t get a first job without your ideas, in addition to your skills and experience.
3. Journalism will be better than it was before
Transformation and evolution are messy, emotional processes. When they produce advancement for society and business, they are seen as healthy and worthwhile, but not necessarily to those on the front lines.
After all, change is inevitable, but progress is optional.
The transformation to digital started 15 years ago for news companies and the Web. If you’re just getting started in journalism, you benefit by having missed the early mess.
The game isn’t over. It’s just getting started and, since tomorrow’s journalists inherently “get” the Internet because you grew up with it, you have the opportunity to shape the future of journalism online like no generation before.
(If you didn’t grow up with the Internet, don’t despair. I didn’t either. My first newspaper reporting job had me sending stories back to the office on a Radio Shack computer device dubbed the “Trash-80” using cups over the receiver at a pay phone. It only worked about half the time so there was a lot of dictation. Now, digital information and communication is like the air I breathe: I don’t even notice it’s there.)
Interactive, transparent, collaborative journalism works. Digital technologies, some that have yet to be invented, will aid you, but they can’t replace a thoughtful, skilled professional with an entrepreneurial spirit. You will be ready to try, and fail, and try again.
While journalism isn’t the only industry caught in the middle of a massive upheaval, I would argue it’s an industry that stands a great chance of making it to the other side and dramatically improving along the way.
So here’s the new deal: you probably won’t get to travel a well-marked, established career path like your parents did. But you will have a say in how the fourth estate evolves and how citizens are informed and engaged in the decades to come. And the chance to be part of something bigger and better than it’s ever been before.
Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. So let’s get started.
Excerpt reprinted with permission.
A Chicago native and graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, Amy Rainey is a digital journalist and MCDM student. She works for Serra Media as a community manager. For more on Amy’s work, visit www.amyrainey.com.
Read More on Flip the Media: