Independent Journalism: An Interview with Donovan X. Ramsey

Today’s early-career journalists have more tools than ever at their disposal to create stories and report the news. Whether it’s audio, video, or even the classic long form journalism we know and love, being able to manage the current journalistic terrain while including digital resources is a must. Donovan X. Ramseyis one of several new faces in the world of journalism who are beginning to make their mark by combining the standards of traditional journalism with current technology to tell compelling stories. I had a chance to sit down with Donovan recently and discuss his thoughts on journalism and new media, and much more.

Maurice Cherry: Tell our 10,000 Words audience a little about what you do.

Donovan X. Ramsey: I’m an independent journalist but like many young professionals, I’m also freelancing wherever my skills take me. With the journalism industry still scraping to find a viable business model, many of us looking to break into the industry are applying our skills to some unconventional work. Aside from contributing to outlets like The Atlanta Post, TheFreshXpress, Creative Loafing Atlanta and The Next Great Generation, I have coordinated press and marketing for a number of non-profit organizations. This coming fall, I will be pursuing master’s work at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with a specialization in magazine journalism. My passion is for long-form writing. I think sound, ethical journalism can change the world so I’m headed to the center of it all in hopes of doing so.

MC: How do you think the current digital landscape affects how journalism and reporting works?

DXR: I wrote a piece for my blog about the future of journalism recently titled “Beyond The Facts, Ma’am”. No one has a crystal ball on this issue, but I certainly do not think that traditional journalism is a dying industry. It has just changed with the times, and given time, it will continue to change. Reports have shown that more people are getting their news from the Internet in lieu of newspapers and radio.  That makes sense to me. The Internet is a very agile medium, so I’d venture to say that reporters cannot possibly get in front of outlets like Twitter in the race to get the story first. We can see that with the case of Osama bin Laden’s death. What journalists can do is get it right and tell the story the best.  Quality is what we are best at and the need for quality is now more pressing than ever.

MC: What are some of your biggest challenges in working with journalism and technology/new media today?

DXR: Very simply, the biggest challenges are finding work that allows one to maintain their journalistic integrity. There’s this catch-22 where jobs for journalists are shifting from newsrooms to “content farms.” The jobs are there, but the nature of the work has changed. Where there used to be opportunities for substantive work, really talented writers are now writing for sites where content is driven by what will attract hits. Think for a minute about the idea behind search engine optimization (SEO.) Writers are being asked to craft content based on Google’s search algorithms instead of style, purpose and structure.  It becomes increasingly harder for journalists to maintain their voice and integrity in that type of environment.

MC: What advice would you give to any fellow up-and-coming or early-career journalists?

DXR: It is increasingly important that journalists become entrepreneurial and get used to an environment where we’ll work as a hired gun. It also seems necessary to me that up-and-coming journalists make themselves invaluable through developing a wide set of skills. We must be a walking news production crew. Aside from that, there’s something to be said for developing expertise or familiarity with niche markets. In short, be a jack-of-all-trades and at least a master of one of them!

MC: Is there anything else you would like to share, such as any upcoming projects we should keep our eyes on?

DXR: Aside from operating my blog, The Perfect Square, I’m currently undergoing a small fundraising effort called Making of a Masters to fund the cost of my master’s work at J-School. It’s a novel idea to sort of create a scholarship through fundraising, but I think it’s a model which is appropriate for our current times. So many resources that used to exist for journalism students are gone. Membership in professional organizations is shrinking along with the support they have provided historically. The competition for what is left is fiercer because of mid-career journalists going back to school to gain new skills and ride out the economy.

Making of a Masters is part fundraiser and part social experiment to trek a new path for myself as an independent journalist. I firmly believe that the future of journalism is going to include specialization and community-led work so I opened up myself to the possibility of being supported by my community and they’ve responded far better than I could have imagined. It’s a scholarship fund with a small goal and so far, many people have invested in my potential to execute the type of journalism that they want. I hope to continue these relationships that I’ve built and conversations that I’ve started past the fundraising and into my actual work.

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