Business models aside, new organizational structures a must for newsrooms

Posted: December 9, 2009 in Multimedia Journalism
Tags: , , , ,

Newsrooms of the future will have to restructure to address the realities of news production and dissemination.

Besides the hover chairs, teleportation pads, interactive video walls and augmented reality work stations, the newsroom of the future will operate much differently than the ones we have come to know and loath over the length of our careers. I have a vision of the future newsroom.

The future newsroom, and we can debate just how far into the future this will be, won’t be “converged”. No, it’ll just be multiplatform. Converged is a term for those of us who still seperate ourselves into a medium of choice, a luxury we can no longer afford BTW.

Broadcast, radio or newspapers will no longer be stand alone operations (no surprise there, right?). The future newsroom will be one seamless operation that will produce, curate and distribute it’s news content for multiple platforms.

Job titles such as social media editor, user-generated content editor and multimediographer will be the standard. Reporters will all be multimedia and social media literate without exception.

Future newsroom work flows will grow to accommodate the integration of user-generated content (YouTube Direct and Flickr are good examples of what I’m talking about here.) Future newsrooms will be well served to appoint an editor to solicit, curate and filter the valuable resources that can often be mined from the public.

Social media editors, a job popping up in a number of public and corporate institutions, will be a no brainer for the newsroom of the future. In some major news organizations, like BusinessWeek and NPR, this job is already a reality. It will be important for newsrooms to keep a finger on the pulse of real-time news, information and discourse on social media networks like Twitter. It will also fall on the social media editor to market new content to potential readers and engage them in discussions about the news. There may even be room for a little of the newsroom culture to seep out into the public via social media, similar to what Zappos.com has done. Zappos.com, an online shoe retailer, has made their Facebook page a place to interact with Zappos employees on completely off topic subject matter. Think that engaging consumers about their favorite Christmas song is a waste? Well, they’ve got the responses to prove that Facebook is a great place to generate public affection for their company and their retail operation. Newsrooms would be smart to examine this dynamic in action and adopt a similar strategy.

Actress Johanna Watts plays a futuristic journalist in an episode of Star Trek Enterprise. Notice the headset that captures video, photos & audio. Now that's even better than "backpack" journalism!

Reporters of the future will need to come out of college with more than just writing and reporting skills. They’ll also have to have experience and expertise in photography, graphic design and video production. Granted, most reporters won’t be expected to be pro videographers or photographers, but they will be required to take decent photos and videos. Video production and photography are as much art as technical proficiency, and that’s why I think the “multimediographer” will replace the modern day “staff photographer” as the video/photo expert on staff. He or she will be an expert storyteller in the video and photo mediums as well as a skilled equipment and software troubleshooter—the go to man or woman on staff for all video/photo questions and all those tough assignments.

Other additions to staff will include professional journalist/blogger, not unlike Minnpost.com’s David Brauer or Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins, and podcast hosts/producers like Matt Pieken, a former staff arts writer at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, who produces the regular vodcast “3 Minute Egg“. On the support end, there will be web master(s) and sales staff, etc.

From a leadership standpoint, I see managing editors appointed to oversee the various channels of distribution, for example a broadcast ME and an online ME.

A new philosophy of news gathering will emerge in this futuristic newsroom. It embraces the curation, in addition to the production of news, blog posts, social media updates, and citizen journalism. It is dedicated to professional journalism, fact-checking, editing and accuracy. It’s very exciting.

So, what do you think? Did I leave anything out? What does your future newsroom look like?

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Comments
  1. Jay Kelly says:

    Jeff – I think these are very interesting ideas, but as someone who works in marketing and communications, I’m having a hard time getting my head around how some of today’s jobs will merge into the jobs of tomorrow. It’s all about skills, and many of the skills required here reside in very different disciplines. Bloggers will need to be good writers – that’s a specific skill. Podcast hosts will need to be good on camera so they need theatrical training, voice training, etc. That’s completely different from writing. Those who shoot video need skills behind the camera and a visual sense, a graphic eye. That’s another entirely different skillset.

    We all have our gifts. No one person can be good at all these things. I submit as exhibit A the videos on StarTribune.com. Most of them are terrible because most of the on-camera people are writers, not TV folks. A few do OK (Lileks, Myron Medcalf), but most are unwatchable. Video is easy; good video is very hard.

    In an era specialization, you seem to be suggesting that it will go the opposite way. How do you think this will resolve itself?

    Jay Kelly

  2. jeffachen says:

    Jay, thanks for the comment. You’re right about the skill sets, they can be very different. However, I’ll contend they’re not impossible to find in one person. This will likely be the challenge for J-Schools.

    Look at my background, I went to school at the University of North Dakota. I took the journalism track in the School of Communication and interned with Studio One, the student television station, and served as a news editor with the Dakota Student newspaper. I even wrote an article or two for Native Directions magazine on campus. This was all before “multimedia journalism” was a buzz word.

    Today, I’ve built on the foundations I learned as a student to produce video/audio podcasts, host a TV show, and write/edit for print and online with skill. Take a look at the work of Deb Wenger over at http://www.advancingthestory.com/. She’s an evangelist for multimedia, multi-skilled journalists. Much of what she’s writing about is finding an audience with the folks who are leading journalism in this direction.

    The training is out there. The professional development is available. All that’s needed is the ambition. I think the young professionals coming into journalism will surprise you. I’d watch McKenna Ewen (http://www.linkedin.com/in/mckennaewen) if you have any doubts.

    Certainly, we’ll need specialists. As I suggest with the “multimediographer”, newsrooms will need to have the “resident expert” on call. But, tasks will be divided more evenly among newsroom staff in the future.

    Much of the multimedia journalism we see today is the result of organizations dipping their toes in. The Strib’s Newsbreak is a good example and I know they can only improve upon what they’ve got now. It will likely take a fresh face with the right talent, but shows like NewsBreak will get more polish because standards will remain high. (I’m not lowering mine!)

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