Radio & Television News Association

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Go to the Web, young journalist!

From Online Journalism Review,
Annenberg School of Journalism, University of Southern

This is your chance to shape the future.
An open letter to student reporters from an editor
who's in a position to hire.

So ten years into the Internet revolution, you are
beginning a career in journalism. Odds are that means
you are looking for a job in either print or TV.

What's wrong with this picture?

One major newspaper chain was just frog-marched to the
auction block by grimfaced money managers. The others
have watched their stock price slide for two solid
years like a metro daily tossed onto a pitched roof.

Network television doesn't even have all its anchor
chairs filled -- forget about a clear mission. The
cable outlets have hired talk-show screamers and now
follow car chases and kidnap mysteries "live." Much of
local TV long ago gave up the ghost.

Maybe it's time to consider the Web.

After a long freeze brought about by the dot-com crash
and 9/11, Web editors are hiring and Web operations
are expanding again. Safa Rashtchy, a senior research
analyst at the securities firm Piper Jaffray, recently
predicted that online advertising will reach its
tipping point in mid-2006. That's prompting news
organizations to realign their resources to focus more
on Web journalism.

What's more, for a discipline with decades of
tradition and well-defined standards of practice,
there is a sense of excitement and rejuvenation about
journalism as it is being practiced on the Web today.
The rules are still being written, so the
practitioners, by and large, are following their own
muse as they explore new ways to communicate news and

Innovations abound
We rolled out a blog at for this
year's Winter Olympics, and our three columnists
became diarists. They wrote about Big Macs, getting
lost on the media bus and the fact that Florida's top
football draft pick had given up the gridiron for
figure skating.

OK, the last one was a fabrication, but they did own
up to it in their post. They wanted to know whether
anyone was reading their blog and would comment. The
readers did -- heatedly.

We thought our bloggers would write about sports. But
set loose with a new writing form in a two-way medium
that allows readers to talk back, they invented
something new.

"I enjoyed my first blog-o-rama," veteran sports
columnist David Whitley wrote to me when he returned
from Italy. "If that's part of the next generation of
newspapers, I could have a lot of fun. Unless I get
fired first, I guess."

Our other online efforts are making newsroom staff
happy as well. Sentinel photographer Ed Sackett
practically crowed over the opportunity to capture the
sound and movement of roosters at a county fair
contest recently. Online producers Debra Minor and
Kris Hey relish scooping TV, radio and the Associated
Press with news called in from the field by Sentinel

It is true that at the major news organizations, much
of the Web work to date has focused on repurposing
content from the legacy newsroom for a digital
audience. But that is changing. In the same way that
early television struggled to develop from radio-on-TV
to something different, so is Web journalism.

Some are striking out in exceptionally creative
directions. A young broadcaster in Britain melds
magazine-style presentation with grainy, cinema-vérité
video to create investigative productions of amazing
depth and presence. A Chicago journalist-programmer
melds public police data with Google maps to present
an on-demand visual map of crime in your neighborhood.
A pair of newspaper veterans dubs themselves
"Baristas" and serves up a mix of
community-contributed news and their own wry sense of
humor to suburban New Jersey.

Preparing for the new job market
The privilege to innovate like this may come around
only once in a lifetime. If you talk to those of us
doing news on the Web, you'll learn that we believe
the Internet is finally beginning to deliver on its
promise to transform journalism -- but we're also not
sure what that transformation will bring. So this is
your opportunity to shape the future.

Interestingly, the skills you need are just what you
have been learning. A soon-to-be released study finds
that online managers are primarily looking for
detail-oriented collaborators capable of editing and
copyediting, not technical producers. (The survey was
prepared by the Medill School of Journalism at
Northwestern University, in conjunction with the
Online News Association, and will be published on the
ONA website in the next few weeks.)

So what could you do right now at school to give you
an edge with Web editors? When I examine resumes of
recent graduates, I'm looking for the journalism
skills first, specifically news judgment. Have you
worked as an editor at your college newspaper? Do you
have clips that demonstrate a clear hard-news focus,
in the classic, inverted-pyramid writing style? I want
journalists who want to be editors.

Next, are you Internet literate? No newspaper editor
would hire an applicant who didn't know the function
of the A-section. No TV news director would hire
someone who couldn't pick out a sound bite or define
the term "B-roll." While we don't need code monkeys,
we do need people who understand the unique attributes
of the Web as it pertains to journalism.

So, have you built a Web page as part of a student
project or on your own? Do you know basic HTML? Do you
work on the student newspaper website? Do you frequent
Internet news sites? Do you use an RSS reader? Do you
podcast? Did you ask to shadow the Web producers for a
few days at your last internship? An affinity for our
medium is essential.

I also need people who think in multimedia. So if
you're a broadcast major, take print courses, or visa
versa. Do a Web project. Have you ever storyboarded a
reporting effort for a Flash presentation? (In truth,
we don't do much Flash at our shop, and you'll find
that's normal at news websites, so Flash skills are
usually a bonus, not a requirement.) You have to know
how to take anything that can be digitized and present
it in a uniquely compelling way for the Web.

This is essential because you will be mentoring
reporters from your legacy newsroom who need insight
into how to present their work for a Web audience. You
must be the one who knows that source documentation
can make a deep, rich Web piece or database. You
should know how to write a TV-style voiceover script
to marry to photos for a narrated slide show. You must
dream up the idea to take the sales tax data a
reporter compiled and make an interface that lets
individuals put in their own grocery bill to find out
in which county they get the biggest break.

Do you keep a blog? Why not? There has never been an
easier way to publish your journalism for an audience.
So become a journalist online. Blog your hobby or your
summer in Europe -- like a reporter, not an opinion
columnist. An understanding of how the blogosphere
intersects with news is increasingly important as we
tackle the two-way nature of the Internet today. (One
caveat: Your MySpace musings may make you a blogging
expert, but it doesn't qualify as journalism. In fact,
you can count on us finding that frat party confession
and photo en déshabillé, so ask yourself whether
that's the image you wish to project when seeking a

There never has been a better time to get into Web
journalism. We are making money, we are hiring, and we
are actively searching for new, innovative ideas.
After ten years, there are no veterans in this field.
This is your chance to be among the first.


Anthony Moor is Associate Managing Editor/Online at
the Orlando Sentinel, and editor of He also serves on the board of
directors of the Online News Association.


Post a Comment

<< Home