Journalists are nothing if not flexible. They face the daily challenges of not knowing what stories lie ahead, what events they will have to report on, or even what the stories’ subjects will be about. The industry attracts a certain type of person.
Many reporters can adapt to jobs in connected industries such as marketing, PR and community management. Many choose to do this for the pay increase or the scaled-back opportunities in journalism that I discussed in another post.
Mitch Joel recently suggested brand journalism as a potential option for journalists looking for a new job.
My concern with brand journalism, however, is this: What happens if you are not “on message”? Brand journalism and negative reactions to the messaging only heighten any “Us vs. Them” barrier. They also lead to a rapid turnover of brand journalists.
Companies opening up their own journalism department certainly seem to be on the edge of current practice, but are businesses ready for objective reports that could potentially cast them in a negative light? Or at least reports that do not constantly cheerlead for them? Apparently some companies are, although I would temper that anything less than objective and possibly negative reporting will not constitute “true journalism.”
What skills should a journalist have?
What should a journalist learn? Coding is a popular answer. Journalists should learn HTML and CSS at the very least; the multi-skilled, one-man-band blogger is forcing this change in the journalism industry.
If Wikileaks continues—or its legacy results in similar sites and/or an increase in freedom of information—data journalism will become an increasingly large niche. As hack-a-thons gain popularity, mixing the content, design and developer departments will create products that will go to market. This is a useful way to get journalists involved in business.
A chief content officer is the perfect role for a corporate journalist. Some companies are experimenting with chief conversationalists, which would be a perfect match for broadcast journalists or talk radio hosts. How about reworking the chief information officer role? The new CIO would be in charge of passing relevant industry news to the appropriate departments; perhaps this is covered in internal communications officers’ roles, but it is rarely the main focus.
The new role of the modern journalist
A multitude of opportunities exists for journalists and their skills. Society should cherish the benefits of an industry that is part of the checks and balances of government, and that questions the burgeoning output of content creators. The danger of losing what journalists provide is, as Mark Schaefer elegantly puts it, the creation of a generation of cowards.
A journalist’s role will increasingly focus on aggregation, curation, contextualization, verification and commentating. However, the basics of writing and networking will always remain. Good writing leads to good SEO, but good SEO cannot save poor writing.
Nicholas Wirtz is a freelance journalist and community specialist working with NGOs in Central America. He photoblogs at nicwirtz.posterous.com, and recently co-launched the Hard Refresh blog. This article originally ran on Hard Refresh.