Evolution of Media Webinar: The Changing Role of the Journalist

With vast amounts of information being produced every day, it’s a journalist’s responsibility to sort, verify, and add context so audiences have the resources to think critically.

“Journalists have gone from just being storytellers to sensemakers,” said Ellyn Angelotti, director of custom programs with the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, during a recent PR Newswire webinar.

Angelotti, who also teaches social media and law at Poynter, was joined by Circa News Director David Cohn and Washington Post Mobile/Tablet Editor Theodore Kim on the webinar. The panelists, moderated by PR Newswire’s Vice President of Content Marketing Sarah Skerik, discussed the ways newsrooms and their journalists are adapting to today’s digital media environment.

One of the biggest changes has been the immediate feedback loop that social media provides to newsrooms.

Newsworthiness used to be decided by editors and publishers, said Angelotti. Media organizations now have teams responsible for posting on and listening to their social media networks for the rumblings of a potential news story.

Although newsworthiness may be partially defined by the topics a newsroom’s social networks and online audience are talking about, Kim cautions that balance must be struck.

If everyone is talking about something on social media, a news organization should pay attention to it; however, it has to keep in mind that the number of active social media users is a fraction of the world population.

Kim says when something is being talked about on Twitter, the tendency is to think everyone is talking about it.  That’s not always the case.

Because of this, a good journalist will explore every tool out there. At The Washington Post, Kim keeps an eye on multiple columns in TweetDeck, Google News alerts, saved searches, and the newsroom’s other notification systems. Meanwhile, the Post’s email filters incoming pitches into various folders, which helps Kim sort through the 600 to 700 emails (a conservative estimate) that he receives each day.

Social Media Use

Just as PR professionals are competing for journalists’ attention amid the other emails and tweets, journalists also must figure out new ways to get their story to stand out.

In 2010, Google found that we created as much content in two days as we did from the beginning of human history through 2003. It’s only increased since then.

In this kind of environment, where content is so ubiquitous, audiences are looking for quick, “snackable” bites.

According to Kim, when the royal baby’s name was announced last summer, 85 percent of The Washington Post’s mobile audience clicked on the article, read the first sentence, and immediately clicked out after seeing the baby’s name.

To keep up with the audience’s attention span, content needs to be presented in a format that’s easy to access.

One of the most popular stories on The Washington Post site was Max Fisher’s 9 Questions About Syria You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask, which bridged the gap between old and new storytelling.

On the one hand, the piece fits media’s traditional role by educating its audience on the intricacies of an important and complex topic. But its execution took a nontraditional approach.

The headline was written to be shareable on social media, and the story format eschewed the inverted pyramid by organizing the article into nine bite-size items of substance.

Cohn added that the mobile news app Circa has found similar success by breaking down stories into atomic units: facts, quotes, statistics, events, and images.

When readers are on the app, they can “follow” a story that interests them. The next time they visit, Cohn’s team delivers short updates based on what’s changed since their last visit.

Monitoring what readers have consumed and then customizing their experience so they get only the information they need builds a better relationship between the outlet and audience.

To demonstrate the dramatic shift the journalist’s role has undergone, Skerik shared the below job listing recently posted by Gannett:

Gannett Job Description

In addition to the traditional reporting skills you’d expect, job requirements now include a proficiency with mobile video production and social media.

The upside is these added responsibilities bring more opportunities.

Whether it’s a propensity for data journalism and coding or figuring out how to use social media in a new way, some journalists are beginning to develop a presence and reputation that supersedes that of their media outlet.

While some publishers may bristle at a journalist with a strong personal brand, Kim contends it shouldn’t be that way.

He equates the situation to a rising star on Saturday Night Live:  Fresh talent joins the cast, gains notoriety, and eventually moves on to movies and other TV shows. While there’s an obvious gain for the individual actor, SNL also benefits from their buzz and contributions to weekly skits.

Similarly,  the role of the individual journalist is on the rise and news organizations have the opportunity to build a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties.

Missed the webinar? Check out Beyond PR’s recap for the media panel’s thoughts on news metrics and public relations or listen to the recording on-demand.

As a media relations manager at PR Newswire, Amanda Hicken helps journalists and bloggers customize the news they receive via PR Newswire for Journalists. Email amanda.hicken@prnewswire.com if you’d like to set up a free newsfeed.

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