Journalism 2017: What reporters must do

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Above: Journalists used to be much easier to identify. Image from Everett225/DepositPhotos

A TechNewsTT Exclusive 

In the four main installments of the Journalism 2017 series, the challenges and failings of T&T media houses were considered.

Over the last twelve years, I’ve been working as an independent photojournalist with freelance connections to the T&T Guardian, but over time and successive management changes, even that relationship has grown more tenuous.

Like most in the local industry, I’ve seen traditional opportunities in local journalism shrink and an increasingly conservative approach from the leadership of traditional media houses to the problems that they are facing. Working harder at a failing model of information distribution is not something that’s unique to First World media.

Having offered these institutions some points to consider, this column is for all the practitioners who do the heavy lifting of reporting and opinion leadership in local journalism, dozens of whom are now finding themselves unemployed and perhaps even unemployable after staff separations at the T&T Guardian and Trinidad Express and the closures of CNMG and GISL.

You are a brand

You may currently be an invisible brand, but the first step is to understand that a journalist is nothing without an audience.

In 2017 and beyond, the best journalists will be reliable sources of information and perspective, but they will be accountable on a level never before seen in local journalism.

Building your brand will be synonymous with building your online presence and that won’t be won through the one-way communication that’s been the traditional media model, it will come through conversation.

Be a specific, thorough brand

A brand isn’t a logo, though if you decide to go into business for yourself, having one of those isn’t a bad idea.
It’s easier than ever to project a profile using social media, but it’s also really simple to undercut and destroy that hard work by being inconsistent.

I spent the years between 1998 and 2005 in corporate life and once I walked away from that, I vowed never to wear a tie again. Depending on what I’m doing, I’m either wearing blue jeans and branded polos or black jeans and a black long-sleeved shirt. I’m a dude, I can generally get away with that.
It’s not my preference for personal comfort, but it’s a compromise that I’ve evolved over the 12 years I’ve been self-employed.

Online you need to be one identifiable person. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you can “be yourself” on “your Facebook.” Decide on who your public profile is, make it something comfortable you can effortlessly wear and conform to it consistently.

Two friends of mine, Karel McIntosh (FB, Web) and David Wears (FB, IG), have excellent, enviable social reach and do it with very different, but extremely consistent online personas that reflect their personal ambitions and missions.

You have a lot to learn. 

You may be a spectacular journalist in a media house, but in 2017 you must train to become cross-literate in all the tools of modern journalism that are part of the digital age. Everything digital is a tool that you can press into use to distinguish yourself among your peers.

The baseline for working journalists must include, along with fluent typing skills, a basic understanding of HTML syntax, comfort in navigating social media professionally, an acquaintance with GREP to enhance search engine prowess, fundamental image and video capture skills and a working knowledge of online information publishing and distribution.

That’s where you start, in addition to what you bring to the table as a creator.
Because we are human and tend to have aptitudes as well as blindspots, you are likely to be much better at some things than others.

Embrace the things that appeal to you and go deeper with them. Settle for a working knowledge of the others. Ignore none.

Being able to use a keyboard and do shorthand were once critical reporter skills, this is an era in which being able to pivot the datasets created by open governance is quickly becoming a significant part of the basics of reporting.

Young people can teach you

…and so can old people. Let go of ego in the process of reinvention. It is possible to be an undisputed genius at one thing and a blithering idiot when doing another thing.

What stops us from moving forward is often the difficulty we have in resolving the two. Most young people treat their elders like morons anyway, so that’s to be expected and most of the knowledge you will need is trapped in their ungrateful little skulls.

What may not be as obvious is the knowledge that older practitioners, many of them in programming and blogging, have both intuitive and learned skills that are tremendously valuable.

We now live in a world where there are retirees as well as young turks who have knowledge and experience that’s valuable to modern journalism. Source and petition both.

Talk not, only do

Don’t plan. Don’t strategise. Don’t old talk and natter about what you’re going to do. And absolutely, do not over think.

If you want to create an Instagram feed with a special focus, do it. Now.
A YouTube channel exploring an idea you think is worth exploring? Begin shooting clips. Now.
A blog collection of your best unpublished writing or opinions on a favorite topic? You get the idea.

There is nothing standing between you and any journalistic notion in your head. Your smartphone is a better camera for video and stills than any prosumer gear you could buy ten years ago.
Good audio capture still calls for some cash, but on the other hand, I’m writing the first draft of this in Evernote on my phone during a lull between subjects while on assignment.

Chances are you already have all the tools you need to make a start and the cost of online publishing and broadcasting has dropped essentially to zero.
The only thing between your great idea and realising it is, to be blunt, you.

Iterate 

I believe every modern journalist should have this word before them on a desk. You should mumble it like a Buddhist chant when in doubt and use it like an axe to cut through naysaying.
Traditional media is built on the idea of winning an audience with a product that approaches perfection at launch.

The problem with that is the problem with woodcarving. Once you commit to something with definite shape you cut away opportunities for serendipity.

Digital construction is continuous destruction and reshaping. Some things will work; others will not. You won’t know until you do. Remember this: If you aren’t actively working on achieve your dream, you are working to build one for someone else.

Build something

An online presence, a Facebook Group, a YouTube Channel and figure out what works for your potential audience. Make mistakes. Travel down the wrong path for a bit. Delete what doesn’t work, amplify what does.

Learn. Redo. Edit. Repeat.

When I first started blogging, I thought of bringing my expertise with the Mac to a wider audience. After a couple of months, my analytics told me the brutal truth. Nobody cared. I quietly deleted the blog.

Now, I run a technology news website. Sometimes I’ll run a post with two sentences. Gather additional visual assets and background material, and I’ll add it in as the day goes on, noting the edits.

This can sometimes continue all day for a story with fragmented data streams and sources. I’m now willing to iterate my reporting on a breaking story and improve it as I go along.

You are not alone

Every mature journalist is facing the same challenges of adjustment, often forced on them.
Everyone who wants to practice in the field sees a once stable, if underpaid profession in a state of collapse, swaying like coconut trees in a hurricane.

Journalism will survive, because it must. There must be points of engagement with assured, professional voices who are visibly bonded to the idea of truthful, transparent reporting and discourse on the world in which we live.

There is no guarantee that these interactions will happen in the mediums which ruled journalism for much of the 20th century, and it is the role of the reporters and opinion leaders of the future to ensure that the flag of the profession is firmly planted wherever information is shared in the public interest.

Really, you’re not

Link here to short interviews with Dominic Kalipersad, a career T&T journalist transitioning with grace to online distribution and conversations from his position as Group Head of News, CCN Ltd. and Katy Esquivel, a Peruvian YouTube vlogger specialising in beauty and fashion who has more subscribers to her channel than T&T has people.

  • Richard Jobity

    I am thoroughly enjoying this. This is applicable to far, far more than media and journalism alone.

  • Excellent piece, Mark