"In the future, there will be journalists"

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 14 December 2009

I was recently in Preston visiting UCLAN for a two-day workshop in the Sandbox as part of the Meld project, looking at the skills that journalists would need to acquire over the next few years. There was a good mix of people from both large and small media organisations, and the two days were under the Chatham House Rule. My colleague Sarah Hartley was there, and has also blogged about the day.

One of the exercises was to work out the profile and persona of a successful young journalist a few years into the future, and to reverse engineer what skills, training and career progression they might have had. My group ended up with a character who sounded like she had a great job, but it certainly wasn't the traditional junior reporter role. She had to be nimble across multiple media outlets, and not be afraid to use new technologies as they emerged. She needed to be a domain expert in her niche, and work tirelessly to ensure that she was the #1 'go to' person in that vertical. She acted as a 'social network' in herself, allowing the audience consuming her digital presence to meet like-minded people, and directing them to stories of interest, regardless of whether they were her original reporting or not.

The entire package of her 'brand' meant that when a larger media organisation wanted to cover stories or features on her topic, or access the audience she was plugged in to, it was natural for them to choose to commission her. We thought Martin Lewis was an established example of this practice, and I'd also suggest someone like Danny Sullivan, who became the world's #1 search engine industry commentator by getting into the niche early, being relentless about covering it, and being brilliant at it.

In terms of young journalists coming through, I don't think this style of working is very far away. I thought of Ann Danylkiw. Over the last year she has refocussed her aspirations from studying a traditional area like economics and business, to focussing on driving her reporting through social media in the environmental niche at her blog, on Vimeo, for green.tv and Inside Cop15.

One implication out of all this was that individual journalists need to get more savvy about potential revenue streams and the mechanisms of Internet marketing. This doesn't mean cramming a reference to Katie Price into every headline, it means understanding SEO, affiliate marketing, getting a blog sponsored, being willing to experiment with ad platforms like Addiply and so on. This is a slew of entrepreneurial skills that maybe the 'clear blue water' between editorial and commercial in most media businesses has prevented journalists in the past being exposed to. I'm not the first person to point out that there are a bunch of people on the web who would kill for the money-making opportunity of the firehose of keyword-specific traffic that search engines send to newspaper sites.

The group working together at UCLAN were, it was pointed out, definitely selected from "the optimistic pot" about the future of digital journalism. As I've said before, I genuinely believe we have barely scratched the surface of how we can use "new 15 year old media" and digital technology to engage, entertain and inform our audiences in the future. In the early days of TV, broadcasters just pointed cameras at people making radio shows, and filmed it. At the moment, I think we are going through a phase where the majority of people are just putting established TV, radio and print news packages on the web, rather than making 'web' news.

The last thing we had to do in the workshop was use three words to sum up how we felt at the end of the two day session. I chose: "Enthused. Inspired. Beer?".

7 Comments

There is one problem with your future journalist, and that is the rate of technological growth. In the not too distant future, all forms of technology will be controlled mentally, which in turn means that all future thinkers will be replaced with super computers that are capable of "out thinking" the entire human race. Therefore, it follows logically that, there will be no "human journalists" in the future.

Unless... there is a new iphone app that can stop this from happening...

Great article. There's a lot of good information here, though I did want to let you know something - I am running Mac OS X with the circulating beta of Firefox, and the look and feel of your blog is kind of bizarre for me. I can understand the articles, but the navigation doesn't work so good.

Thanks Emre. I actually built the new templates using Firefox on Mac OS, so maybe you just don't like my design skills ;-)

I'll definitely check it with the beta update though.

Considering what you've posted, isn't then the future of information in peril? The most viewed news sources may be the ones who are best at seo techniques, not the best at providing accurate coverage and having a track record of integrity and excellence. It's somewhat worrisome, also, that rather than promoting the most important news, the stories likely to attract the most traffic will be the ones that are important to the future journalist. Entertainment news or sensational conspiracy theorist garbage could trump valuable information about our world.

Also, beer is good.

it is an obvious problem with future journalists. look at all of the new blogs that we see everyday posting up garbage and literally have diarrhea of the mouth. I think we are facing a problem with the internet with misleading information coming from those that are suppose to be an actual "source" or news source. good post!

I wonder if the idea of the traditional journalist is an outdated notion.
There is no significant barrier to publishing as there once was. Instead of a journalist researching a story I think we'll see articles coming directly from experts in the field or people directly involved in the events as they unfold.

I adore journalists. Many of them risking their lives just to give a high quality information to the community. I have read different stories about the experiences a journalist encounter at work and I must say they are the kind of people to be proud of and their job is so noble.

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