What students can learn from the State of the News Media report

pewresearch

Screenshot from PewResearch Journalism Project

Every year, PewResearch releases a State of the News Media report as part of its ongoing Journalism Project. The report researches everything from who is producing the news to new key players to economic models for content. This year the report identified a few key trends including changing revenue models, increasing local TV acquisitions and content sharing, momentum for news videos and growth in digital reporting. 

Although all of the trends are relevant to students, I think the trend of growth in digital reporting is especially important. The report focused on 468 digital publication for its study of the trend. Almost 5,000 full-time positions were created from those companies alone. This statistic is especially exciting when you take into account that from 2003 to 2012, 16,200 full-time newsroom and 38,000 magazine positions were lost. The report also found that:

  • Hiring rates at digital native companies has been explosive

  • Most digital sites are small, new and not-for-profit

  • Digital organizations often focus on niche news needs such as local and investigative news

  • Many sites are investing in global coverage

  • Websites are hiring both experienced and young reporters alike

  • Most job losses are coming from print

  • Growth in digital sites does not mean sustainable business models have been created

It’s hard to not be excited about these findings. The report as a whole even began with a few words of optimism:

“In many ways, 2013 and early 2014 brought a level of energy to the news industry not seen for a long time. Even as challenges of the past several years continue and new ones emerge, the activities this year have created a new sense of optimism – or perhaps hope – for the future of American journalism.” -State of the News Media 2014

I read this report and thought back to the Journalism Interactive conference I attended last weekend. The conference was all about digital media and was packed with ideas about new journalism tools. Digital strategist Amy Webb’s talk stands out the most to me. Webb gave an insightful presentation on top tech trends for journalists and journalism educators. She also said that journalists weren’t moving fast enough and that journalism curriculum was outdated to teach budding journalists how to succeed and better the new media environment. The State of the News Media report shares some promise and optimism about the digital revolution of news, but we need to act fast if we want to capitalize on it. We also must not mistake short term growth for sustainable revenue solutions for news (which the report doesn’t fail to mention). That all being said, I think there are a number of ways young students can take advantage of growth in digital reporting:

Tips for students

1. Experiment with digital tools

This semester, I changed my blog’s theme to focus on the intersection of technology and media. The inspiration came from the combination of classes I am taking (Entrepreneurship, Convergence Reporting and Emerging Media), and also from some personal interests I wanted to act on. Every week I now write about some aspect of technology and news and their intersections, and it has already been incredibly beneficial to me. By holding myself accountable to a weekly blog, I essentially force myself to read about and experiment with new tools. I encourage every student to do the same. If you have more time and motivation to simply experiment on your own, do it. If you can integrate new tools into your reporting, even better. In order to master digital reporting, you have to be familiar with practicing it. You will learn from this application and also demonstrate your knowledge to future employers.

2. Gain experience at a digital-native company

I can’t begin to count the number of students who have told me they want to work at the New York Times or the Washington Post.  These are the same students who got really amazing print internships the summer after their freshmen year. First of all, they rock. I myself came into the journalism school with print experience from high school thinking I would only be successful if I could get a job at one of these big name news publications. I believe that journalism organizations will always need talented writers and reporters who don’t want to stray from their craft in these changing times. However, I also believe that students should look beyond the kinds of journalism jobs they are familiar with and explore digital-native companies.

This fall I had the opportunity to contribute to a digital publication called Silicon Prairie News, which covers technology and entrepreneurial news in the Midwest. Over the summer I became interested in entrepreneurship when I helped with Maker Faire in Kansas City. I initially looked at the position as a chance to meet people who were as excited about entrepreneurship as I was. The position was unpaid, and it was not nearly as shiny as some of the other positions my peers had the previous summer. However, I gained a wealth of connections in a field that excites me, and I also fell in love with non-traditional media. As part of a small team, I had a lot of independence and freedom to make a story my own. I also sharpened my online media skills through experience with content management systems, for example. Experience at a digital publication shows an employer that a student is adaptable, explorative and risk taking. The first step to eventually becoming an innovator in your field is getting your foot in the door at an organization already practicing innovation.

3. Think entrepreneurially

A panel on teaching media entrepreneurship was also one of my favorite presentations at Journalism Interactive last weekend. The panel made clear that not everyone has to be an entrepreneur, but that students can help an organization by thinking entrepreneurially. The industry needs more people who understand the business so that they can use new tools to not only produce quality content, but also bring eyes and money to that content. In my opinion, every student should take at least one basic entrepreneurship class. If you’re not looking to spend too much money, consider participating in a Startup Weekend. Columbia has a booming Startup Weekend every fall. Mizzou also has an exceptional class called the Entrepreneurship Alliance which focuses on experiential entrepreneurship. At the very least, walk into Museao and talk to literally anyone in the building about the businesses they are building right here in Columbia. Traditional news skills are great; however, a skill set is only beneficial if it can be applied in unique ways. One of the panelists said it best:

“I’m not interested in your clips. I’m not interested in what candies you can put in the box. I’m interested in the box you can make.” -Lisa Williams, digital engagement editor Investigative News Network

What are you waiting for? Go out there and get digital!

 

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