Allia Mcdowell

Owning a keyboard doesn’t make you a journalist

No one goes into journalism for job security. No reporter has ever told me that they never once feared for their future in the industry. We don’t studying journalism to have an easy path upon graduation. We study it because of passion.

The news of the layoffs at Gannett and Buzzfeed has sparked a lot of conversation about the future of journalism, and whether or not any jobs are really safe anymore. Two major media giants have let go significant staff members. Who is to say that it won’t happen in every other news entity. This uncertainty has led people to question my choice of major. I, however, continue to have no doubts.

I have a passion for telling the truth. I have a passion for communicating stories to wide audiences, and translating information so that anyone can understand it. I was never promised job security, and I have come to terms with that. The recent layoffs don’t change that.

However, our focus should not be on how these companies will survive after such drastic actions, or whether layoffs like this are to be expected across the media board, but rather on what the future of journalism is adapting to become and how we, as future journalists, can prepare ourselves to be a part of it.

In an article for Slate, David Littau mentions how the most worrisome part of the cuts at Gannett is the fact that these are a direct hit on local media outlets. Gannett has long been arguably the biggest player in local media, and these layoffs impact that directly. He doesn’t blame the internet for this downfall, but rather on the industry’s inability to adapt effectively to the changing landscape.

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Photo by Thomas Charters (@lifeofteej) on Unsplash

For a long time, journalism and newspapers were synonymous. People would wake up in the morning, crack open the paper, and read about the previous day’s events. They flipped through the pages for information on everything from local news, to national events, to marriage announcements, to for-sale ads. The paper was their one-stop-shop for all the updates they needed. And, truthfully, it was the only place where it was all available. And then the internet came in and threw a wrench in it all. Now, rather than having to read about events the next day, people could get information in real-time. There was no lag time – everything was immediate. And the dispersal of news was no longer confined to the hands of experienced journalists – from social media, to comment spaces, to instant messaging, in an instant everyone with a keyboard could call themselves a reporter.

International events that once seemed so distant now felt local because the information was everywhere. News is no longer divided between national and local and global – because my AppleNews app is going to send me a notification about a significant event, no matter where it is happening. If something important is going on locally, I feel as though I can count on my notifications to draw my attention to it.

But local news is important. We let our attention fall away from it because we expect it to be monitored as much as everything else, and we expect to be notified if anything is out of place. What we don’t realize is that it is this idleness that is killing local journalism. Not every local town is going to have AppleNews-notification-worthy events, and the rest of the local news being reported just can’t maintain the readership that it needs to survive. We don’t realize that our local politics are just as integral to our lives as our national politics (and, arguably, even more impactful). We expect our local news to be monitored diligently, but we don’t give any local news the time of day unless we view it as important. And we have been trained to only view notification-worthy breaking-news as important.

How we consume news has changed. We expect to know things the instant they happen. We expect our phones to sort out what is and is not imperative for us to be notified of. The world has become increasingly smaller as we can use VR to immerse ourselves in global situations. We are connected to each other easily, and we rely on each other to share what is important. While this once looked like yelling to your neighbor to read the day’s headline, it is now sharing stories on Facebook and tagging your friends.

Gannett and Buzzfeed are looking to the future. They are making room for people who can help move the organizations forward, because what media once was no longer exists. Every day, something new is added to the realm of media possibilities and spreads like wildfire (Exhibit A: Podcasts). Journalists have no choice but to be innovative, responsive, and adaptive. People want information instantly, they want it accessibly, and it to be reported truthfully.

If we can educate on ways for the general reader to discern between fact and opinion, we can take one step closer to helping restore what it means to be a journalist. Journalism is centered around sorting through information and telling the public what they need to know. That job got a hell of a lot harder with the internet (which seems counterintuitive).

In an article for the Columbia Journalism Review, David Uberti talks about how major companies, like Gannett, didn’t know how to make money off of journalism. Media companies dropped the ball and failed to see the value in internet advertising, and now it’s too late. The same issue plagued newspapers when they first started selling print ads. Quality reporting matters, and showing people that quality information comes at cost is essential for survival. People have proven that they’re willing to pay for information they trust – it is time that the media industry learns to make the money it deserves.

It is time to get creative and realize that journalism, in itself, doesn’t change. But the outlets through which people consume the messages that journalists want to share do. Gannett knows it. Buzzfeed knows it. The New York Times and The Washington Post know it. Ken Doctor talked in depth about it in his article for NiemanLab. Core values, he said,  remain constant, but outlets change. Right now, everyone is transitioning – and gunning for the chance to be the source that uncovers the next big thing before the rest.

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Photo by Omurden Cengiz (@omurden) on Unsplash

If you want job security, don’t fall behind. Media is changing; either change with it, or watch it change from the sidelines. The ability to write doesn’t make you a journalist – but having a passion to tell the truth, and forcing people to listen, does. So adapt, be bold, listen to your audience, and prove that there is more to being a journalist than owning a keyboard.

4 thoughts on “Owning a keyboard doesn’t make you a journalist

  1. I like how you have a really positive outlook on the future of journalism. Rather than being afraid of entering an uncertain industry, you mentioned that it’s actually a great opportunity to figure out what the industry needs and begin molding yourself to fill that need. I also like how you mentioned that having the hard skills to be a journalist doesn’t necessarily make you one because you also need to be innovative and keep up with the changing times. I’ve never thought about it that way but I completely agree!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. When I chose to study journalism here at MSU, I also received scrutiny. I remember I would tell people of the older generation that I was going into college to study journalism, and they would respond, “Really? How are you going to make money in that?” Nice, right? You hear that a lot in not only this industry, but similar media-focused industries. I think it is important to note how much you can do with a degree in journalism. We don’t know what the world will look like in 10 years – we might have the skills necessary to excel that others lack.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree with you wholeheartedly! When we discovered our desire to study journalism it wasn’t for the hefty salary or job security. It was because we value the truth, and want to share the stories of the unheard, whoever they may be. Whenever non-journalist talk about the stability of our market, they blame the rise of social media and the internet. What I liked about the study was how they show journalism’s sudden decline isn’t only at fault to the media but the choices legacy and local newspapers made heading into their futures.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Preach! Studying journalism is something we do out of passion, not for the money or job security. And I agree with you, media is changing and we as journalists right out of college have to keep up. Our creativity and passion will hopefully guide us to good jobs and help us create something great and maybe even revolutionary in the media industry!

    Liked by 1 person

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