“Writing skill no longer enough to sustain journalists”

The headline above drew my attention to a post by Robert Niles in the Online Journalism Review. Mr. Niles has worked as an editorial writer and reporter for several newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Rocky Mountain News, Omaha World-Herald and the (Bloomington, Ind.) Herald-Times.

“As the 21st century progresses, going to school to major in writing and shooting stories will become like going to school to learn breathing. What’s the point? It’s a ubiquitous activity that everyone learns on his or her own long before college. With so many more people getting their 10,000 hours of writing and shooting early in life, more people than ever are able now technically to report to others the news that they encounter. What’s the value in being a journalist when everyone is doing journalism? [emphasis mine]

“Yes, news organizations must find new production models that allow them to remain profitable in a competitive publishing market. But news publishers must also reconsider whom they’re hiring. Journalism schools must also reconsider the instruction that they provide.”

“There’s no longer any use in merely teaching people to write to a formula and conform to a specific style book. While those skills had enough value a generation ago for an individual to build a career, the new, hyper-literate media marketplace has rendered those skills – in isolation – as practically worthless.”

I remember when the number one requirement for getting an on-air job at a radio station was a pleasant speaking voice. A “good set of pipes.” If you could think while speaking into a microphone, better still but not a deal breaker.

If you were going to work in the news department (yes, radio stations used to have entire departments for news gathering), you also needed to know how to write a story (IN ALL CAPS) that included “sound bites.”

In an earlier post I referred to the RTNDA (Radio and Television News Directors Association). That was incorrect. It’s now RTDNA: Radio Television Digital News Association. An acknowledgment that news is happening some place other than on radio and television. When any website can have audio and video (that would be called “now”), one has to wonder if DNA might be the more apt acronym (already taken).

And when ALL news is digital, will it be the News Association. And when everyone is producing news…

I’ve struggled to understand why so many of the journalists I know resist learning the new skills Mr. Niles refers to. I’ve concluded it would be an acknowledgment that the skills they’ve worked so long to hone are no longer enough. It would be –in some sense– like starting over. No thank you.

We have an opening in one of our newsrooms now. I won’t be involved in recruiting and filling the position. For that I am grateful.

Disclaimer: I am not a journalist. I did not go to journalism school. I went to keep-my-deferment-and-stay-out-of-Viet-Nam-school.

10 thoughts on ““Writing skill no longer enough to sustain journalists”

  1. Probably “word on the street”. In my opinion there was a time when mainstream news was reliable…it was there to filter the “word of mouth” into the facts on the matter, redelivered to the masses. I consider it an evolution of the “word on the street”.

    Now, we’ve got social media. The lines can sometimes be blurry between what is actually news, and what is “word on the street”. Thats not saying that word of mouth is a bad thing…many times, thats where I first hear about something before looking for more information. I like facts…maybe thats just me. When I read news, I go there searching for the facts about something I “heard”. There is a trust issue, and there probably always has been one. How do I know what I’m reading is true? There really is no answer to that question, which is an issue for me. The whole, “Don’t believe anything you read, and only half of what you see” thing is an issue for me. I find myself cross referencing multiple accounts of a story from different news sources to figure out where they are congruent. Isn’t that the job of a journalist to begin with? I just want to know the main facts, from a trustworthy source, without having to do all of that extra reading.

  2. >>>definition: journalism n. 1. the work of gathering, writing, editing, and publishing or disseminating news, as through newspapers and magazines or by radio and television. << So, what was the definition of journalism BEFORE radio and television? Before magazines? Before newspapers?

  3. Ok, guys…lets play nice here.

    The way I see it, these social networking technologies are so powerful… and we are still just begining to scratch the surface of what they can be used for. Its incredibly easy for any Joe-Somebody to post the color of their last stool, or a headline about the paper towel isle at the west-end Wal-Mart being set on fire. Is it a complete news story? No. I said headline because when I use Twitter, thats really all I see in the 140 characters that is allowed. What is cool about Twitter though, is the trending topics. A Google minded individual can glance over there, see a topic thats going wild, read a few quick headlines, and then head out in search of a full article on the topic. This follows the usual method most use to read a newspaper or magazine: scan the headlines, see one thats interesting, read more.

    The problem with Twitter and any social media outlet is that you’ve got a million “opinions” clouding up the mix of what is actually the “Who, What, When, Where, & Why”. The same can be said about daytime news outlets like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC… most of it is opinion driven bullshit that doesn’t clearly state facts. NPR and AP news stories tend to be the best place for me to actually get NEWS.

    But, people write about all kinds of stuff these days and the option for anybody to have a blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. in order to send out the thoughts they are writing down makes it way more accessible to people like myself. The longer people participate in social media, the better the “best practices” for journalists will get when it comes to these types of things.

    On another note, I like the fan pages on Facebook because of how accessible they allow me to be to other fans, as well as the organization management, particularly in reference to small local businesses. I had a very bad experience at a local restaurant a few weeks ago. VERY bad…I just got on their Facebook page, which I was a Fan of, and posted my complaint about my experience. Not only did management see it, but so did potentially 5000+ other “fans”. Ouch. This brings up another interesting point that is heavily discussed in the social netowrking world – – Know what you’re doing/Know what you’re posting. My mother always told me, “Be aware of your surroundings” whenever I left the house. I think the same mindset applies to social media/social networking.

    By the way, while we are talking about journalism, let me post it’s definition: journalism n. 1. the work of gathering, writing, editing, and publishing or disseminating news, as through newspapers and magazines or by radio and television. 2. journalistic writing 3. newspapers and magazines collectively.

    I think Twitter can fit nicely with the gathering aspect of the craft.

    Just my 2 cents…

    Andy R.
    (Not a journalist…)

  4. Twitter and Facebook are just like real life. If all your friends are self-centered and boring, maybe it’s time to consider getting yourself some new friends.

    But regarding the nudie bar 500 miles away, I’m pretty sure Bass is complaining that it’s not closer.

  5. Why so negative? You sound like the guy who complains about the nudie bar 500 miles away.

  6. Got stick with my original point/question. Do you… have you… actually used Twitter? If so, I’d love to follow you. If not…

  7. Dumb would be pejorative for “unable to speak.” I know you mentioned that someone tweeted about their ferryboat being diverted to pick up passengers from the Hudson-crashed airliner last year. Yes, that’s news, almost instantaneous, and that’s a good thing. But to think that Twitter is necessary to successfully cover a story, to write about it with some authority or knowledge base . . . well, that doesn’t make sense. Twitter is a “word-of-mouth” tool, not the “who, what, when, where, why” tool. How much facebook do you do? Isn’t that a social medium, too? Why would facebook be necessary to write news? It isn’t. And if you see any facebook stuff, you know it’s mostly pablum, mundane “updates” of what one is doing, much like Twitter.

  8. >>>tweeting “I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out”<<< Sorry, buddy... but when I hear someone describe Twitter as you do above, I know that person is uninformed. I almost NEVER see such a clueless tweet. I do not follow people who don't post useful/interesting/amusing stuff. It would be like someone who has never shot or edited video, telling you what a waste of time it is. It would make them look... dumb.

  9. “Hyper-literate?” It’s been my experience that most people can’t spell, can’t put a sentence together, and think tweeting “I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out” is the next great autobiography in the literary world and worthy of a six-figure salary.

    And let’s not forget . . . “There is a theory that if you give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters they will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. The Internet is proof that this theory is wrong.”
    – Unknown

    Some skill is required to write and to write well.

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