To be fair, before I even start this piece, I want to say that these are just my opinions on the industry as a whole. They’re based on my observations and interpretations only. Thanks.
Prepare yourselves, I’m about to sound old…
Back in my day, studying communications was different. While I was in college, we were still years away from the first Facebook post, and social media didn’t even factor into a communications plan. There were’t even communications departments at companies, and I left school, with my degree in journalism since you’re only choices in COM were — print, broadcast, advertising/PR, or TV and film.
From there, knowing I didn’t want to be a reporter, I went into marketing. It was the logical place to go if you liked to write. Having studied magazine journalism, which was like the old-school version of what blogging is today, I honed the ability to write informatively and conversationally at the same time. The rules were looser in the magazine world when it came to tone and word choice. You could be funny and witty, and even a little cliched. It was a perfect style of writing to learn that worked back then, and unknowingly kept me relevant today.
Working from the ground up
So, there’s old-school me, who began with a foundations in journalism in order to prepare myself for a career writing. I rode the waves of new mediums and writing styles as they appeared, learning as I went. Now, today, I am just as comfortable writing short blogs and witty listicles as I am researching my way through white papers.
But, here’s what’s “killing” journalism for those coming into it now: Not all writers today start with a background in the fundamentals. They’re not learning essential skills related to writing and reporting before diving into a career as a writer. Instead, they claim their social media skills as their experience. The ability to craft a tweet or snap the perfect Insta that goes viral is a worthwhile ability to have, but it’s not being a journalist in any way. You’re not a good writer because you can write for social media.
There, I said it.
The missing skills
Here’s what we’re losing today when we employ content creators and writers who have zero journalistic experience — the heart of the reporter. I’m no hard-nose, work-til-midnight, source-driven, newsroom expert. My time writing newspaper pieces ended when I put on my cap and gown to get my college degree, but here’s what I learned in college, as a journalism student that I still use today:
- How to conduct an effective interview
- How to ask questions that get long answers
- How to find reliable sources
- How to properly cite a source
- How to carefully copyedit
- How to take sections of a single piece and weave them together for cohesion
I write the long-form piece first, and then extract the sound bites and witty snippets that go out via social, not the other way around. I’d rather say too much and have to edit it down than start cramming in words that don’t make sense to hit my required length for a piece. I’d rather drill down through articles to get to the original source than just cite the site that quoted something else before I did.
I sometimes feel like a dinosaur out in the world as a content writer, and I’m not actually that old (I still graduated college in this century).
Speed vs quality
What I sadly think this whole issue in today’s media comes down to is the battle between speed and quality. Writers are taking on roles without the same type of training I have, and they’re either learning as they go or simply lacking the skills, but there’s also this strange pressure for time.
Yes, we had the ‘scoop’ back when print journalism reigned supreme, and the pressure to be the first paper to break the story, but you still had to wait overnight for the printing run to finish. You couldn’t load anything to the web the night before and get a jump on the competition.
Today, you can. Today, there’s the pressure to be first, and it overrides the need to check your information and verify data. It’s why you’ll find conflicting content out there in almost any subject. Why people who want real answers are constantly struggling to get them, and why ‘fake news’ is still a common phrase.
I feel like today, even as I hope writers feel a tug to get more training and dig into the more traditional skills of journalists, consumers are also beginning to realize that they should look for quality. Don’t always click on the story that pops up at the top of your search results. Seek out publications that continually show their work and aren’t contradicting themselves. I have a few favorites when it really matters most, and you should too.
It’s okay to want your news fast, but make sure it’s all good.
Writing journalism’s eulogy
Traditional journalism is 100% dying. Even if the skills continue to get used, the medium where content appears is so different. A background in print journalism could now mean you wrote for the web instead of a newspaper. People are hiring for digital marketing roles, ones that didn’t even exist 15 years ago.
We all want content, but aren’t sure who’s qualified to write it. There are a lot of hits and misses out there, and even though I feel like journalism is dying, being a good, quality writer, with the skills to collect and interpret information don’t have to disappear. The shell they appear in is what’s changing, not the need for them.