27 Aug 2008 8:00 am   //   Filed under: Media

Journalism reality

In the elevator at work yesterday, I had a chance run-in with somebody I knew from college. She doesn’t even work in my building; she was visiting from Virginia. This person was one of my editors at the school paper, and I got to thinking about how I learned to be a reporter.

At the student newspaper, we had a huge volunteer staff. Everything I wrote was read by five editors. When I went out and reported from the field on a late deadline, I could call back to the office and read my notes to somebody over the phone, who would type them into a story. When big news broke, it wasn’t unusual to have ten reporters on a story. There were more photographers and graphic artists on the staff than the newspaper could possibly use; most were lucky to get one assignment a week. It was, in a word, awesome.

I knew that when I graduated and worked for a professional publication, personnel would be in shorter supply. But I was prepared to work as part of a team.

Things are different now. The job of a journalist is changing, in many cases disappearing. At my job now at a business magazine, I’m basically the only online news person. I still do as much reporting as I did when I worked at a newspaper. But now most of my stories are read by only one editor before they go live; some are read by nobody. There is no online copy editor. I mostly handle my own photos and graphics. I write a blog. I shoot and edit videos. I solve computer problems. I crunch our Web stats. I make my own travel arrangements. It’s a good job, but one that requires skills far beyond what I learned in journalism school.

The reason journalists are being asked to do so much more isn’t just budgetary. It’s that there’s more demand for online content: A new, hungry beast to feed. It’s going to keep heading in this direction. Is journalism sustainable online, where no one will pay for content? I think so – Web advertising is getting ready to explode, just watch. But the new media world requires everybody to work a little harder and be a little better.