Interesting how the Head of BBC News Interactive, Pete Clifton, reckons that the two things he looks for most in a journalist are a good knowledge of current affairs and the ability to spell. It seems an obvious statement, but after an hour venturing ever nearer the blue skies where the future of journalism gets thought about, it was good to be brought back down to earth.
Incidentally, another core journalistic skill – the ability to make and nurture contacts – was one of the reasons we invited Pete to give a guest lecture here at the Unviversity of Glamorgan in the first place (a former student – Robert Holbach – had carried out some work experience with him and suggested we get in touch).
Beyond those basics, the picture does get scary. Hearing how some of these issues are being dealt with in the newsroom, day by day, provided us with fascinating food for thought. Take just these two:
1. Journalists who used to be short of raw material are sometimes now drowning in it (eg after terrorists blew up that bus in London, viewers/readers sent in tens of thousands of pictures for Pete’s team to look at). The journalist’s role in this new and rich environment was, I reckon, given a good airing a while ago in a great book called The Elements of Journalism http://www.concernedjournalists.org/node/540, which said that news professionals are increasingly to be verifiers, sifters, guides through the information jungle, rather than just holders of knowledge to be drip-fed out to the public. But someone’s got to break some stories, too, which perhaps is why journalists with a background in competitive print journalism are faring well when it comes to getting online jobs in places like the BBC
2. Journalists can now find out what the audience likes best – but what do you do with that knowledge? What about the day when the tracking system told the Beeb that its most emailed story was about a bear stuck up a tree? Do you then just do bears-up-trees? At lunch with Pete after his lecture, the chef came by to ask us if the food was OK. Very polite of him – but he’s the expert, and should have the confidence to give us a mix of what we want, what we need and chuck in a few surprises. I think the Beeb is still doing that but, in the commercial environment which must surely come, what’s to stop them serving chicken nuggets if that’s what their feedback tells them sells best? Thanks to one of the students for that question, or something along those lines, and for Pete’s reassuring answer
In the meantime, many more thanks to Pete for his fascinating lecture and thanks also to the chef – the food was great. Learn to spell, keep up with the news, and never upset a chef.
Back in the classroom, third year students here are producing monthly newspapers and magazines for a major project, and are troubled by new media. Some students are rightly tweaking their products in a features direction, believing that competition from the net leaves them with little choice but to provide more views and reviews, and rather less news. So how do you design your paper to best compete with new media? A Danish paper, Politiken, has just won an award for showing the way. Read about it at http://media.guardian.co.uk/mediaguardian/story/0,,2031482,00.html and see pictures of pages at http://www.newsdesigner.com/archives/002649.php. It’s an interesting exercise in how to prevent a long-read approach from eating into the story count, and how to keep offering your audience little nuggets (not the chicken variety) of interest. More news, I’ve been telling my students; more views and reviews, say some parts of the industry. Both, says Politiken. The other answer, I suppose, is that print can always beat the web – as it has beaten broadcasting – by generating its own, exclusive news through old fashioned reporting. Back to basics again.