No matter if you work in print, digital, television or radio the one thing every journalist keeps hearing over and over is about the 24-hour news cycle. Things have heated up in recent years. How do traditional journalists trained in ‘old media’ adjust to the ever changing times?
When I began college in 2011 I signed up to study Broadcasting. At the time my interest was in film making. The closest I could get to studying film at the university I was attending was Broadcasting. They offered a few classes in audio and video production. I set out to minor in Theater with the intention of meeting actors and other players who I could team up with in my endeavors. By the end of my second semester everything changed. I took a class in introductory news writing and photography. Combined with a course in media software (Photoshop and InDesign specifically) I slowly began to increase my interest in becoming a journalist.
The first time I went out into the field to cover a story I was nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time. I put in my best effort, (I was still very shy and anti social at this time) and I earned a B- on my story. This was not a bad grade in my mind but below the threshold for publication. That meant all my hard work was for nothing. That didn’t stop me from trying again. I decided the second story I would really contemplate my professors advice and find a subject more interesting to the readers.
I can’t tell you how excited I was to see a story I wrote, along with photos I took, printed in my college newspaper. The feeling was tremendous. Still, it wasn’t yet enough to snap me out of the delusion I would get into film but it gave me a hunger I had not felt before.
I continued my education with a new slant. This time I was more determined to have a more realistic fall back. So I changed my minor from Theater to Political Science. I had always been interested in politics so it was a natural fit. My advisor felt that if I followed a career in the news media field politics would be my strength.
By the time I left college things had changed. We witnessed the death of Osama Bid Laden, the rise of Al Jazeera as an alternative news outlet and YouTube was increasingly becoming important to the spread of information. In 2015 I landed my first job at a newspaper. This was the first time I put on a press badge around my neck. Suddenly I was transformed. No longer did I want to pursue a career in video production. I was a journalist and nothing was going to change that.
What I learned about being in the news industry is you have to hit your deadline. You have to be as accurate as humanly possible. You have to hit your deadline. Oh and you really have to be careful you don’t miss your deadline. I made the mistake of getting lax at my last job. I was working at a weekly newspaper in a small town. Sure, the work was as professional and important to our community as any other news outlet. The thing was, when you have a whole week to get our work done, deadlines become a little moving target. The publisher didn’t quite see it that way and so we ended up having to work many long hours. This taught me to be better organized. The goal was to make sure I did everything I could to get my stories completed on time. I didn’t always meet that goal but we did our best.
Another thing I learned working at a weekly newspaper was you have to know your audience. In the world of hyper local news your stories can really only be catered to that very specific audience. Otherwise it doesn’t make it to print as it won’t pique the interest of the readers. I worked in that office for 2 years and eight months. Truth be told, the money and work was such I could have stayed there for another 2 years and been fine. However, I had aspirations to do more with my life and so I gave my notice to pursue other projects.
Once I arrived back in the area I was raised things began to change. On the one hand my confidence began to grow as I knew I was fighting more experienced journalists for job interviews. On the other hand I began to slowly realize 2 and a half years at a weekly newspaper amounted to no more than 6 months worth of work at a daily newspaper. I was suddenly faced with the harsh reality I wasn’t going to be getting any new experience either until someone decided to offer me a new job. That’s when I realized I had to go the freelance route for the time being.
Once I began pitching stories as a freelance reporter the first thing I learned was I was no longer guaranteed, well anything. Priority was given to staff reporters. When I did show up to an event to cover it, I was treated no different than I had been as a staff writer for my previous publication. However I quickly learned I could invest time, effort, energy and money doing a story that the newspaper might not buy. In some cases they flat rejected the story based on lack of interest. I had never pitched stories to a daily newspaper before so naturally I was falling back on my training as a reporter for a weekly, community newspaper. Finally I got a break and one of the daily newspapers bought one of my stories.
Why am I recanting this story? Because it’s important to remember as a journalist what the market is doing. Like it or not news outlets are businesses which need to make money. Journalists are also people who need to eat, pay bills and earn a living.
As I watched news unfold on Twitter I started to remember how fast the national news media works. As a journalist working at a weekly newspaper I would often have to cover national events localized to appeal to our market. We had the luxury of being able to take our time and get the facts right. Meanwhile we had to sit back and watch the national media issue corrections, alter stories and write new stories with updated facts. The national media, in this 24-hour news cycle has to get it first, then they can get it right later. This leads to false facts getting published then being corrected or retracted. The problem is with social media it has become easier to spread the early reports, false facts and misinformation long before the hard hitting journalists have a chance to do their jobs and sort out all the noise.
Once I realized that a journalist is just a regular citizen with the protected right to share information I made a decision to make changes to my website. I want to be taken seriously as a journalist but I don’t want to be victim to the 24-hour news cycle of get it first. I want my stories to be accurate and right the first time. Sure, I can always edit after the fact but I would rather not have to do that. I won’t be focused on hard news, or breaking news as it’s called in the industry. Instead I want to get back into writing feature stories, in depth articles and stories covering what goes on in the world not from a get it first perspective but a get it right and publish on deadline.