5 Myths about digital journalism

by Mark S. Luckie

1. Journalists must know everything

One of the biggest fallacies in the new era of journalism is that a journalist must be a jack-of-all-trades, a Swiss army knife of multimedia tools, and a master of all areas of reportage. While having multiple skills is an improvement on having none at all, the likelihood of one journalist employing a variety of skills by themselves is low. This is especially true in medium to large newsrooms that have whole teams dedicated to video, audio, interactives, web development, etc.

The trick is not to be a master of everything, but to be knowledgeable about the tools at your disposal. This way, you can both be aware of the possibilities these tools offer and also be conversant with those people in the newsroom that are in place to develop advanced forms of media.

2. Social media is the answer

We’ve all heard it before: Twitter, Facebook, online commenting, mobile check-ins and the like are what’s going to save journalism. The truth is nobody knows what’s going to save journalism. Nobody. Not even the social media gurus.

What we do know is that social media can help augment and improve the distribution process of news stories. It also makes news audiences more invested in the development and discussion of news, something that wasn’t possible before the rise of social media. Is this the money-maker that’s going to stem the tide of red ink? That remains to be seen.

3. Journalists must have database development skills

As more and more high-profile news stories are released that include expansive and intriguing databases, the call for journalists to have data skills has become louder and louder. While CAR skills are nothing (relatively) new, the push for reporters for develop database-building skills has and increased and in turn left many scrambling for training workshops or online tutorials.

Unless a journalist has a knack for computer programming and web development skills, the quality of work they can produce cannot match the level of expertise of a dedicated programmer or developer. Simply put, a one-week or one-day training workshop is not enough to surpass years of experience. While this should not discourage journalists who want to take this route, most should leave the technical aspects of high-level programming to those who do it well and concentrate on collecting, organizing and filtering the information that can be contained in these databases. This first step can elevate the collaboration between journalist and programmer.

More on the subject at this previous post.

4. Comments suck/ Comments are essential for democracy

When it comes to online comments, journalists usually fall into one of two camps: either they think they are a blight on news sites and are a waste of space and energy or they believe comments are important part of letting readers have there say about a news story. In reality, it’s a mix of both.

The truly civil and engaging comment threads that news sites strive to cultivate are few and far between. History has shown us that many comment sections will eventually degrade into back-and-forth arguments or inflammatory statements without some sort of moderation in place. Even though they comment sections can be a pain in the arse, it’s important to not throw the baby out with the bath water and to use all the moderation tools available to foster meaningful conversations.

5. There are no journalism jobs

If the recent increase in job postings and hiring announcements is any indication, there are plenty of journalism jobs to be had. However, there are several issues at hand for journalists seeking a new position in the industry. First, the journalism jobs that existed decades ago are often not the jobs that are available. Journalism applicants are increasingly required to have some technical skills or experience (whether its blogging, multimedia, CAR, social media etc.) and those applicants that don’t are often pushed to the side in favor of a candidate more knowledgeable of the digital space.

In addition, the throngs of unemployed journalists left in the wake of the economic recession, plus the horde of college students graduating from universities every year means there are many people applying for the same few jobs. It is not unheard of for several hundred people to apply for a single position.

All hope is not lost, though. Make sure you set yourself apart from the pack by developing diverse and unique skills (which don’t always have to be digital). If you’re unemployed, use the opportunity to learn or develop independent projects that demonstrate your ongoing commitment to journalism.