by Bill Momary
The multimedia nature of journalism has forced the industry to evolve in ways it never imagined. Reporters no longer have the privilege of being just writers, photographers or videographers. Instead, the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle coupled with the digital landscape demands speed and visual narratives for many story types.
How has backpack journalism been affected most recently with today’s technology? (Specifically in regards to producers, shooters?)
The most recent changes in technology aren’t gadgets or even necessarily media tools, they’re platforms for storytelling. The last decade of backpack journalism was about acquiring assets: text, photos, audio and video. The next decade is about emerging formats for combining those assets in new ways. Think Storify, Flipboard, Pinterest and Tumblr. Multimedia journalism used to mean putting different media types on one site back-to-back to give news consumers a choice. The future is less about choice and more about assembling something unique, coherent, curated and consumable with all the tools backpack producers and shooters have at their disposal.
You’re already seeing the impact of these emerging platforms and formats: the Wall Street Journal, of all publications, has jumped onto Pinterest with gusto in a very unique way, which is pulling interesting quotes from their stories as a way to tease readers to the text version. WSJ is also heavily investing in short video narratives. Right now those two efforts are separate but we’re going to see combination and experimentation as the norm over the next few years. If you’re a backpack freelancer, you need to be looking at Pinterest, at social platforms, at blogging platforms, and thinking “How can my media assets and skills be used creatively here?”
What can freelance journalists and camera operators do now for job security in the future?
One thing that has surprised me, and many of the editors and publishers we work with, is just how big the gulf remains between amateur and professional, between citizen journalist and newsroom veteran. Just five years ago many people were predicting that technology- Flip cams, mini disc recorders, editing software and the like- would essentially wipe out that gap. Folks thought that print reporters with no video experience would be able to shoot professional-quality video with their phones and edit them in the car with one hand on the wheel. Today it’s obvious that, while digital technology has made backpack journalism more accessible, it’s not a replacement for skills, education and dedication to craft. So the first, and last, thing that backpack journalists can do to remain relevant and boost their chances of staying employed is to continue to develop their craft: interviewing, shooting, lighting, editing. They’re all still important and will remain so.
But technology has had a dramatic impact on all creative media. It’s the rise of “good enough.” By enabling anyone to create multimedia journalism, publishers are faced with a choice: go with the expensive expert or the cheap amateur. This means that backpackers, like everyone in every creative medium today, absolutely must develop a product or service that can’t be substituted easily. You already hear this a lot but usually in different forms: be your own brand, own your specialty, become the expert. And many media producers groan because, let’s be honest, being a brand sounds a lot less fun than mastering your craft. But being great at what you do and knowing your customer’s needs (and employer’s needs) are two sides of the same coin. If you’re replaceable by “good enough” you will be replaced eventually. So talk to editors and publishers about their goals and challenges, stay on top of innovation and get creative, not just with the story, but with how you tell those stories.
Does ‘newsworthy’ take on a new meaning when it seems literally anybody can be a journalist by proxy?
The challenge with the term ‘newsworthy’ is that it has always been a dynamic value determined by publishers. Now that everyone is a publisher, that determination has shifted in part to the consumer. The front page of the New York Times still matters, but so does what’s trending on Twitter and popular in search. Journalists, and people who love professionally produced journalism, have been put off by what they perceive as the tyranny of the masses, or Google, or Facebook. But there’s a flip side to the empowerment of readers and that’s a surge in demand for quality content. Search engine optimization and fooling web users with headlines, slideshows and other tricks seemed to be where online content was heading a few years ago.
Today, it looks like the opposite: every publisher from news media to corporate brands to advertising agencies is demanding a professional, proven approach to creating great content and connecting with their audience because readers want ‘newsworthy.’ Not just from the New York Times, but from social media and search as well. A Facebook friend who clutters your feed with non-newsworthy links and posts is likely to be dropped from your feed. So in that sense the journalist’s term ‘newsworthy’ remains the same- a shifting but recognizable idea of what is important- but is now being applied to a dramatically larger universe of content. And that’s good news for journalism because the audience is ready to consume quality content from whatever source as long they have confidence in the processes used to produce it, which typically means a significant portion of what we consider journalistic practices.
What is the future of news media in the next year? The next five years?
Well, the future is always happening isn’t it? Mashable, HuffPo, the Verge and many other content producers are moving ahead with their models while traditional media are experimenting and innovating, like Washington Post with its social reader. Platforms such as tablets and phones, and distributors such as Flipboard, are changing how we think about news media in the digital era.
Something to watch in the next year is the playing out of newspaper paywalls (charging for access online). We’ve seen a surge in charging for content since late 2011 and by late 2013 most of the largest newspaper chains will have implemented that. Tablet and mobile strategies are also finally gaining steam; witness the flurry of deals between content producers and app makers as well as device makers. We’ll know pretty soon if the business is shifting from the open web to these more walled-off formats that seem better designed for a certain type of news consumption.
Over the next five years it gets harder to predict. It appears that we are headed toward a progressive decentralization of news organizations. We are seeing an increase in freelancer dependency across the country and across media, an area that is being looked at as part of a shift to variable cost structures at media companies that are also trying to predict the next five years. Part of that shift is content strategy, a term that few people paid much attention to historically but is now a key component of news companies’ corporate thought processes. One example: Ebyline works with its enterprise customers on finding the right mix of freelancer-, staff- and user-produced content and those decisions being made today will have dramatic effects on what you read, hear and see in the news, from the hyper-local to the global.
About Bill Momary - CEO/Co-Founder, Ebyline
Momary was recently the Vice President of Advertising at the Ventura County Star where he managed the Interactive and Print divisions. Momary built and managed Star Interactive, an online advertising agency and subsidiary of VCS in the Los Angeles DMA. Prior to joining VCS, Momary worked as a Regional Advertising Manager at the Los Angeles Times where he was responsible for multimedia business development. Momary’s previous experience includes Cars.Com, Latimes.Com, Tribune Interactive & Internet Tradeline. He earned a BA in Journalism from California State University, Northridge.