Definition of 'journalist' is changing fast

In the run-up to last month's Washington State presidential primaries, 16 young journalists covered the campaign events of nearly every Presidential contender to visit the state.

In the run-up to last month's Washington State presidential primaries, 16 young journalists covered the campaign events of nearly every Presidential contender to visit the state.

However, the aspiring reporters and editors weren't reporting on deadline in the traditional sense. The group of bloggers are University of Washington students in professor David Domke's online journalism class, which teaches Web reporting, blogging, and the use of multimedia applications, along with proper sourcing and the inverted pyramid writing style. Their publication was at seattlepoliticore.org.

The students are news buffs in the traditional sense, but Domke says this generation has a different concept - "not Edward R. Murrow" - of who is a journalist.

The classes of 2008 and beyond, many familiar with the Web for a decade or more, are being taught to adjust to the quickening pace required for real-world reporting. And much of that instruction is coming from this year's campaign, where deadlines are often pushed forward to just after, or during, an event or speech, says Domke.

"Everything is lightning-fast these days, and this has been the biggest adjustment for my students, since they're used to reading about [events], but they haven't stepped into the very fast current of the coverage," he says. "I think when we started this class, some of them didn't have much experience blogging. Then they started seeing how they would write things and it would get picked up [by other blogs or news Web sites]."

The course is another example of future journalists - and the people who train them - adjusting to a media map where bloggers hold as many post-graduation opportunities as traditional media sources. Reporters are not only trafficking in the written word, but manning digital cameras and audio recorders, explains Domke.

"A good number of Americans, not everyone, but many middle-to-upper-class Americans, can log on [to the Internet] 24-7 and read about things that they're interested in," he adds. "There are so many political sites that either aggregate news, like RealClearPolitics, or produce their own original content, like Talking Points Memo or Redstate. The number of those sites and the traffic that they get is a sea change from four years ago."

The speed of publishing today creates additional pressures for reporters and editors to get the story out quickly while ensuring it is also correct. There are plenty of bloggers who are potential critics that could point out a careless error as a sign of incompetence or bias, says Barry Hollander, associate journalism professor at the University of Georgia.

"People are looking over your shoulders," he notes. "They were [during earlier election years], too, but they had no outlet to pick through your work and find something and read into it. Now the Web has created a million outlets where they can look through your work. A slip of the tongue here or there can cost you in the long run and call into question your ability to critique a candidate."

That added anxiety, as well as the fact that most reporters blog to complement their beat coverage, has led academics at the University of Georgia's Grady College to teach blogging within traditional journalism classes, instead of creating new curriculums.

However, to illustrate the changing media environment, Hollander recently showed his class a picture of the "newsroom" of the George Polk Award-winning Talking Points Memo blog, which operates without many of the familiar sights of the traditional news bureau.

"Their newsroom is this little room of six or eight computers, and this could be the newsroom of the future - small, nimble, specialized," he explains. "So as the major metropolitan newspapers are cutting jobs, this is giving [students] this sense that journalism isn't going away; it's just going to be different."

Similar work areas, where editors expect quickly composed Web-based reporting, could become more common in a rapidly changing media era, adds Hollander.

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.

News by email...