Give a Journalist the Gift of Time
I had lunch with an old friend from my media days a few weeks ago. Jerry Bellikka and I shared some stories, talked about people we used to work with and lamented many of the changes in the media since we left and turned our attention to doing other things with our lives.
One of the things we talked about was how reporters today have to do things differently than we did when we were in the business. It wasn’t a “get off my lawn” type of discussion from two old radio guys, but rather one of with some sadness about the work that today’s reporter needs to do to service the needs of the media outlet he or she works for and their audiences.
It also got me to thinking that what reporters now have to do has a definite effect on the newsmakers they talk to for their stories. The reporter’s life is different and anyone who speaks to the media has to understand that. If they do, they have a much better chance of being successful when they’re interviewed.
The contrast between what reporters need to do now compared to when I left the radio business 25 years ago is startling.
Let’s remember how a newspaper reporter used to cover a news conference that started at 11:00am. The reporter would show up for the event, get information from as many people as they thought were important and then would gather some reaction from others to the announcement. They then would sit down and write their story for their paper, which would come out the next morning and head home around 5pm like many other office workers. Clean and simple.
For the television reporter of 25 years ago, it would be much the same. They would attend the news conference, gather reaction and prepare a two-minute story to run on the 6pm news, which would be rerun on the late night news. I can’t remember how many TV outlets would have had newscasts at noon, or at 5pm like they have today, but if they did, a story would be required.
Let’s fast forward to today. The reporter shows up for that same 11:00am news conference, but instead of waiting for the announcement to be made, they start by taking a photo of the room, which they immediately add to the Twitter feed to let the world know they’ll be covering the news conference. They then try to get an advance copy of the announcement, so they can let the Twitterverse know about it before anyone else. They then cover the event much the same way as 25 years ago. As the announcement is being made however, they Tweet the news from the events, including quotes and may include a photo or two.
The TV reporter then needs to do a “live hit” on the noon newscast, which means the anchor will introduce the story and the reporter from the scene of the news conference. The reporter will tell the audience what was announced and run a clip or two from the event, which has been furiously edited at the last minute to get on air. It’s not surprising that far too often there’s either a problem with the video clip, the reporter’s intro and extro, or both.
The TV reporter then needs to get some reaction to the announcement from others in the afternoon and then prepare something for the 5pm news and a full report for the 6pm news. Somewhere along the way they may need to send out a Tweet or two to promo their story, and/or do something for the station’s Facebook page.
The work of the newspaper reporter is much the same. They likely have to do the same things on Twitter or Facebook as the TV reporter, with one difference. As soon as they’re finished their work at the news conference they likely have to bang off a quick story for the newspaper’s website. Of course these days the same reporter will cover a story for both the old Postmedia and Sun newspapers. When they’re finished doing the story for the website they gather reaction to the announcement and then write their main story that will run in the morning papers.
By the way, reporters aren’t the only ones doing double duty. I understand many camera operators in major markets are being trained in another skill such as video editing, so they can shoot and edit their own video, eliminating or reducing the work that used to be reserved for video editors.
So What Of It?
You may be asking what difference these changes make. On the surface the answer is not that much.
There’s no question in my mind that reporters have to do more now than when I was in the business. I never felt reporters had an easy job a generation ago by any means, but there’s little question today’s reporters have to work harder to serve more audiences because of social media and in some cases, additional time to fill and space to cover. When Jerry and I hit on this topic over lunch it never was about who worked harder, but instead about what changes for reporters have occurred since we left the business.
Some would say there’s nothing wrong with today’s reality because the news is delivered faster to more people and that’s true. I especially like news being delivered to audiences when it really is “news” and not yesterday’s leftovers.
My concern about what reporters need to do to keep up these days relates to what they can no longer do because they simply don’t have the time. Can they ask an extra question or two during a news conference that would provide more meaning and context, or maybe put the story in a different light? I’m not sure if they have the time.
Can they do investigative work to uncover some of the bad things that are happening, so we’ll all be better off? I’m not sure if they have the time.
Are they asking the hard questions to people who don’t want to talk to the media, but are the people many of us what to hear from? I’m not sure if they have the time.
My point is, there’s little question the depth of news coverage isn’t what it used to be. Local daily newspapers used to break stories on a regular basis, but I can’t remember the last time that the two Edmonton papers had a legitimate “scoop.” The news gets covered, but what isn’t getting covered may be more important.
There’s no question reporters today don’t have as much time so I advise people who I provide media training for and other clients I work with to keep the message simple and make it as easy as possible for reporters to do their jobs. I tell them not to over think things. Keep their reaction clear and simple, provide a sound bite or two as often as possible and be accommodating to reporters because they just want to do their job and get on their way.
There’s nothing wrong with the work of journalists today, it’s just different. Social media and technology have given us the news quicker and in shorter forms. I just wish we still got the investigative stuff too, but those stories don’t fit into the 140-character world we live in.
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