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Industry Evolving

By Billy O'Keefe

LAURA BURNS / The Working Press
On the door of Southern Utah University’s campus newspaper, a sign reads “platform agnostic.”
“We want to tell every story in whatever media we can,” senior staff member McKenzie Romero of the University Journal said.
The Journal seems to be on the same track as the chorus of voices at the SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference who have analyzed, criticized, emotionalized and agonized over the future of journalism throughout the halls of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta.
Close to a third of the 60 sessions held throughout the three-day convention related to the state of the industry and what to do about it.
“Journalists seem to be getting the idea that we’re no longer in narrow, individual media,” said Raycom Media’s Director of New Media Content Charles Gray, part of the “What Do We Do Now” solutions-orientated session. “Right now we need to be disseminating information on multiple platforms.”
Multimedia is the buzzword — a do-or-die dictum for every newsroom. Journalists have had to become innovative with the way they report and how they deliver the information.
Editor Bob Davis’ newspaper, the Anniston (Ala.) Star, sent reporters to cover Hurricane Gustav last week. These reporters not only filed stories along with photographers, but also called in regular updates using pod-casting software. Davis also cited other news organizations’ coverage of the extreme weather in the Gulf Coast that utilized Twitter, a microblogging service on which users can update their status via mobile phone or computer.
“We might see more of media companies where you get your news but in a bunch of different flavors,” Davis said. “You can get it printed at your doorstep, though the price may rise. You can get it on your phone, get it on the Internet and, when they figure out a way to plug something into your head, you’ll probably get it there too.”
Along with delivery, the business model is another issue facing journalism.
Tremendous overhauls have been suggested to create a pro-fit model that will actually work for media organizations. Some have given a specific view of what the future will look like, which combines the financial problems the industry has run into with circulation and technology.
“I’m fairly frustrated by the way our industry as a whole is reacting,” said Tim O’Briant, Aiken (S.C.) Standard’s news director, who ran the session “The Future Demands Big Changes in Thinking.”
“I see articles in the mainstream press about how woeful things are and the things we need to do, but I don’t think their ideas are big enough.”
O’Briant, who confessed people think of him as the crazy guy with his hair on fire, suggested the media industry build its own product that specifically delivers news content in many different forms. This product — perhaps akin to Amazon’s Kindle, a handheld electronic reader that allows readers to download content — would deliver the news directly to the consumers.
By building this infrastructure, O’Briant believes the media industry could create “the next big thing that people want to have in their hands.”
“Not just the ‘whiz-bang, ain’t it neat’ technology, but something that we’d own, control and provide to users,” he said.
President and CEO of the E.W. Scripps Company Richard Boehne, a self-described Watergate generation journalist, told a packed crowd about the changes he foresees.
“An awful lot of what we’ve called journalism over the last 30 years has really just been stenography,” Boehne said.
Though he believes the turmoil in the industry will last at least a few more years, there are “wonderful jobs in many markets” for journalists capable of telling a story.
“The technology and economy will squeeze out the stenographers and give opportunities to the storytellers and the real journalists,” Boehne said.
Changes need to come, like stories need to be filed day in and day out, but many educators and professionals at the convention believe the basic tenets of journalism such as ethics and storytelling aren’t going anywhere.
“I hope it’s not the end of journalism as we know it,” said Stephen Smith, a lecturer at the University of Georgia. “We’ll always need people who are gathering information and facts. … I want my three grandchildren to grow up in a world where opinion doesn’t rule unless it’s supported by facts.”
The business is changing and journalists are innovating on the job. Those looking to join the market, handing out their résumés and taking bright-eyed tours of the CNN newsroom are already looking forward to jumping in head-first with the “platform agnostic” mindset.
“We have a chance to redefine the industry, recreate it,” Romero of the University Journal said, “and I’m confident we will.”