By John Ainger
20 years ago, the term ‘Super Journalist’ meant something very different. He was a man dressed in a full body, bright blue spandex outfit, red briefs, slicked back hair and a velvet red cape. By day he worked at The Daily Planet and called himself Clarke Kent. Today the term refers to the journalist who can do everything from designing mind-blowing infographics to coding complex algorithms, and from being a documentary aficionado to an accomplished drone flyer. On behalf of NewsNext, I have compiled 15 lessons for aspiring super-journalists to highlight how we only really need to be dear old Clarke Kent, and not Superman.
- Stay versatile
The news media landscape has changed significantly over the last twenty years alongside the rise of the Internet. Outlets are continuously on the search for new and profitable business models, new ways of telling stories and multi-talented ‘super’ journalists. Skills with data, infographics, virtual reality, film, photography, coding, marketing, website design are increasingly desirable facets. This does not however mean, that the journalist has to be the master of all trades, but they must be versatile in a volatile profession – As Mark Deuze, a professor in media studies at the University of Amsterdam, put it: journalists today, are in an age of precarity…
- Remember though, the audience is always key
Yet remember, now more than ever, the audience is vital to your career as a journalist. Today’s media outlets do not have a captive audience like in the glory days of the newspaper (what are those?!), and instead have to fight day-in, day-out, hour-in, hour-out, minute-in, minute-out, for a share of the precious audience.
Too often though, outlets and journalists get caught up in a journalistic arms race to provide the latest VR immersive experience or coolest infographic. These things don’t come cheap, and sometimes a good story is all that the audience desires.
‘It could be the most beautiful product in the world, but if the audience don’t use it, then it’s worthless’ (anon)
- At the same time engage them
We currently live in a media society where interactivity with the audience is easier than ever. We know longer have to rely on ‘letters to the editor’, but can activate and engage the audience in new and exciting ways.
The audience now contributes stories, comments, and helps news become viral. If you want your story to be read by the thousands, not just the hundreds, you need to bring the reader in and keep them there. Whether this through Virtual Reality or good old-fashioned story telling, interaction is the new lifeblood of our profession.
- Use new tech, but don’t overuse
As we approach the festive season, the temptation is always to over indulge. The booze is flowing and those Belgian choccies aren’t going to eat themselves.
BUT CONTROL YOURSELF!
The key to a good article, like an enjoyable Christmas, is to use those fancy technical gadgets in moderation. An infographic is nice, but please don’t make it too complicated. I love video as much as the next person, but honestly show me something that’s relevant!
Enhance your journalism with something you’re good at. If you’re a social media guru, use it. If you can make the best infographic this side of Timbuktu, do it. But don’t dilute your specialisms with mediocre technical whims that don’t fit.
- …But be keen to learn
We live in an ever more complex world, with new developments in the media industry taking place everyday. In such an environment, the best journalists stay ahead of the curve – whether it’s through innovation or the latest news story. Pick a handful of new skills and try to get to grips with them. You don’t have to be an expert, but understanding helps.
- Look behind the box
Damn. You’ve got an idea for a story or a new media innovation and it’s been taken! The f*&%$ers!
We’ve all been there.
Don’t let it get you down. The key to being a good journalist in today’s media age is not to think outside the box, but to look at it from another angle. Ask yourself different questions – Why is this happening? What can I add to my product, innovation or article? In what way can I add to the body of literature on a subject? Remember sometimes, it’s just about putting a small rock on top of the mountain.
If you don’t have the skill set required for a particular story in a particular format – say a story on refugees that will only work with video, then collaborate with someone who knows how to do it. And don’t be scared to admit your own technical deficiencies.
Increasingly, newsrooms incorporate reporters, developers, designers, data specialists, photographers and videographers. It also shouldn’t be that way outside the newsroom. Freelancers should come together and collaborate in ways that are beneficial for everyone.
- Same story, different platforms
There is no reason why a single story has to be told through a single medium. Every story has multiple aspects to ideally suited for various platforms: Newspapers, television, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Periscope, Google Cardboard, radio, podcasts to name but a few. Think carefully about the strengths and weaknesses of each platform and what each offers to your story. Don’t just use them for their own sake.
- Experiment! Even on the small stories
It’s easy to create a little bit of ‘extra’ for your product. Why not simply use Soundcite to add audio for your articles, embed Twitter feeds, or use Genius to annotate your articles. Simple things can help your personality really shine through and add some much-needed oomph to your article.
- Be social…
— John Ainger (@johnainger) December 13, 2015
Social media is an essential tool for today’s journalist, whether reaching out to sources, publicising your stories, and even checking out what might be newsworthy.
You don’t necessarily have to be a frequent poster yourself, but make sure you stay abreast of the latest in all things news. Try not to let trends dictate your articles however, as too often it will be closing the barn door after the horse has bolted!
- …But don’t forget real life!
The journalist’s job is still to talk to people, ideally face to face. After all bonds are formed between people through application of all senses. In innovation too, people are always more likely to help those they meet in person – Don’t forget a handshake and a smile!
- And don’t rush!
In today’s highly competitive and mediatised world, the breaker of news is rewarded with the spoils of war, while competitors have to play the catch up game. This is not without consequence. Journalism recently, has become littered with examples of journalists acting too quickly without verifying the facts, and has partially led to journalism being one of the least trusted professions. This is not ideal for the supposed ‘fourth estate’.
While it may be incredibly challenging, try to stick to the age-old norms of fact checking and confirmation, no matter the rush.
- Old school is new school.
It may be a new world out there, but you can still learn from the dons. I was always told at school to ‘respect your elders’, and this is surprisingly true for our journalism world. We may think that journalism is a young person’s game but far from it. The old boys and girls have seen it all – this isn’t their first ‘new age’ of journalism. Remember Rupert Murdoch?
- Journalism is not dead. Far from it.
And never forget it. While it may be incredibly stressful at times, journalism is awash with new opportunities for the journalist and the innovator. New media products are launching more often than the Apollo rocket programme that make life that little bit easier and more exciting for the journalist. Granted times are tough and the profession needs to fix up its business model so we can all make a living… But it can be done.