What does a journalist of the future look like?

And I don’t mean blonde and blue-eyed etc. But what skills and equipment will a journalist of the future need to capture and publish their stories?

When I started as a trainee newspaper journalist a good long while ago it was as simple as collecting all the info I needed, writing it up and filing it. And maybe asking the photographer to take a snap or two to illustrate it. Someone else laid it on a page, made it look pretty, wrote the headline, added the image, and then off it went to print. Job done.

Now, everything – the story, the design, the publishing, can be done by the journalist. Better still, it can all be done from the mobile phone you carry in your pocket or handbag. And more people have access to mobile phones than toilets. So, potentially, that’s more content out there than ever. More content is being produced than we even have the capacity to consume. Content shock.

Without straying into the issue of content that people actually WANT to consume, does the digital age require a journalist of the future to be a multimedia one. And how ‘multi’ are we talking here? Should a journalist be able to write, shoot and edit audio and video, be a social media whizz, be tech savvy, draw (or animate), code, have an eye for design and keep their mobile phone topped up with all the tools and tech to help them? It’s quite a lot to ask.

And, as well as all of the above, how much of yourself, your personal and not professional self, do you have to give over in order to be successful? For example, are you tweeting from corporate new accounts or your own? Are you suddenly expected to appear in front of the camera when you’re used to being behind it, or do the questions you omit in your written reports suddenly become part of the story in an audio and video interview and how does that make you feel?

And where does the relationship with your community end and narcissism begin? If it’s just you and your mobile phone – you doing everything – then will your ego inevitably creep in?

Putting down my Anchor

I had the good fortune of spending an afternoon with Christian Payne, AKA Documentally, last week to get his take on mobile journalism. He’s been described as a ‘professional over sharer’ and a ‘blogger prone to random acts of journalism’ (Google this and you’ll see what I mean) but there’s no one better to learn from when it comes to digital storytelling; he lives and breathes this stuff.

In fact, he introduced me to a new audio community called Anchor, a radio by the people, where you can ask questions (or just generally talk to yourself) and sometimes people will reply. I asked the question – what does a future journalist look like, and got a few replies, most believing that multimedia skills are invaluable, almost essential, if you want to be a storyteller of the modern age. And many of them believe you’d need to invest a little of yourself, personally, to be able to do this.

What I rediscovered (I already knew this, but was quickly reminded of it when in Christian’s company – it’s impossible to spend five minutes with him without getting recorded in some way) is that I’m not comfortable in front of the camera, or even hearing my own voice. Words I don’t mind: tweets, blogs, social posts, images etc – they express my personality but the face and voice behind my Twitter handle don’t get seen or heard.

So I sat for a good long while before I recorded my first ‘wave’ on Anchor, wondering if it was best to script something in my head or just go for it. I found a halfway house worked best – to have an idea of the topic or question – and then go for it. And I got some great replies, including super friendly ones from people advising me on the best way to utilise Anchor. I think it’s a great tool for getting opinion or doing a spot of research in a unique way and I must make more time for this.

Screen grab of a tweet and recording of my first 'wave' on Anchor.

‘Curate’ is as important as ‘create’

There’s plenty more to say on all of the above, but I’m making notes for my MA here, not writing an essay, so I’ll wind this up. And I’ll end with a quote from Christian:

The modern day journalist has to be a moral compass for the citizen who is reporting but not capable of doing journalism. Decent mobile journalists curate as well as capture and document.

He says it’s important for journalists to be trusted sources of information and that part of a future journalist’s role is not to retweet ‘any old crap’ but to verify something that’s happened and been reported by someone else. It’s not always about getting the story but helping to verify someone else’s story if you can.


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