Always engaging with journalists and educators, I recently took part in a Twitter chat by Media Shift, moderated by Stacy Forster. I compiled my highlights from the discussion into a Storify article: Teaching Journalism Online 2015 #EdShift Twitter Chat.
With Fall, many highschool graduates are undertaking the crazy adventure of higher education. Among the college-bound is the next generation of journalists. As the Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Oklahoma Baptist University, I’ve witnessed the shock many students have when they take their first steps into news. Its a lot more work than most realize as they often say, “I had no idea…”
To those brave souls beginning their journey in to journalism, here are my five tips to help you better prepare.
CONSUME THE NEWS
Are you reading the news? No? Start doing it.
Are you watching news broadcasts? No? Start watching them.
If you want to be a journalist, prepare to eat, breathe, and sleep the news. Haha! Not really, there is no sleep for journalists. You need to be plugged into news all the time. Know what is happening in the world around you and stay informed. Consume news in different formats from different organizations. There is no room for favoritism, read and watch it all. You will not only stay up-to-date with events but learn different styles of reporting.
The more you educate yourself, the better you will be able to report on various topics. You will be stronger at finding stories, covering all the angles, and understanding the weight of certain events.
A great way to be on top of things is through Twitter and Facebook. Follow local and national journalists and news organizations of interest. If you check your social media few times a day, you will get the daily updates straight to your feed.
GET PLUGGED IN
Starting college can be an overwhelming experience. There are plenty of things demanding your attention. However, one of the best ways to establish a strong foundation in journalism is by connecting early with your school’s journalistic organizations. You won’t be expected to know everything from Day 1 but taking baby steps with the group will allow you to gain solid experience. Sticking with it through the years, you can graduate with an established reputation and attractive portfolio.
Make journalism your sport. A college athlete works hard to get on the team and trains to be ready for game day. Similarly, a journalism student needs to get involved and commit the time to getting the publication or broadcast polished. Take on that work ethic and you will be a News MVP in no time!
USE YOUR ADVISORS
In college, you will have a faculty advisor and plenty of “unofficial” advisors. Your professors are excellent sources of knowledge. Too many students don’t take advantage of their teachers. Many of those old guys have careers longer than your existance and have plenty to share.
Professor’s help those who help themselves. Take iniative and go beyond the classroom. Be open with your advisor on your academic and professional goals. Talk to them about what opportunities are available to advance yourself. Ask your professors to teach you beyond the textbook and about their own experiences professionally.
Journalists used to have dedicated roles. You had a producer, a reporter, a photographer, an editor, etc. Times have changed and journalists are expected to be jacks-of-all-trades. News organizations are looking for journalists to be able to do it all. In some places, reporters are their own photographers and editors. Many times, photographers will be expected to conduct interviews, film the story, edit it all, and publish it. And everybody, I mean everybody, needs to be a social media guru.
News organizations are all experimenting with this new reality and, honestly, schools are still playing catch-up. Your education is your own. If you want to be best prepared for the climate of the newsroom, learn everything. Take courses beyond the role you would like to do. Are you an aspiring reporter? Take some photography and editing courses. Wanna be a photographer? Learn to write. The more tools in your belt, the more prepared you will be for any job.
From this day forth, don’t view yourself as a journalism student. You are a journalist. Even as you are learning the craft, see yourself as a professional. If you are truly serious about being a journalist, start acting like one.
Where to begin? Do an assessment of your online self. Is your social media reflective of how you want job seekers to view you? If not, clean it up. Additionally, consider creating new emails and profiles for the purpose of publishing your work.
If you feel you are ok online, start being a journalist. Find stories, write, take photos, report. If you have a specific topic you’d like to cover, go for it! Be a community journalist. Report on local sports. Cover pop culture. Just start establishing yourself. You will not only be building yourself up as a commodity but gaining invaluable experience. Even if no one views your work, you will have, at least, began training your “muscles” for bigger and better opportunities. If you do gain viewers, you’ll have the beginnings of a killer portfolio. Dream big!
For journalism tips and trends, follow me on Twitter @xtiannetizen.
After over a decade in media and journalism, I began a career teaching higher ed. Having come from the professional field, I was not familiar with the world of academia beyond my experience as a student. I knew God put me in the right place but I had many misconceptions and lessons to be learned. Here are just some brief notes on things I learned the hard way.
ITS NOT JUST ABOUT TEACHING
Higher education is about far more than teaching. My fantasy vision of effortlessly imparting my wisdom on the future generation of journalists was quickly overshadowed by the behind-the-scenes of course preparation, constant meetings, recruiting efforts, official and unofficial advising, grading, office hours, course text review, networking, professional development, emailing, and other side activities. I would say only about 1/4 of my work is actually in the classroom and just as much goes home with me. Don’t read this as a complaint but rather the realization of what “teaching” actually is. It’s all very necessary for both the growth of the students and yourself.
When all of it hits you, there comes a sudden realization how beautifully complicated it all is. Similar to putting on a news show, there are so many elements worked on that must come together for that one moment, the classroom. When it goes poorly, you can see all the little missteps that went into it and hopefully learn from it. When it goes well, you can see all the little efforts that came together to generate the lightbulb in your students’ minds. That one brief moment is what makes it all worth it.
I CANT BE EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE
I was grading the midterm exams and turned into a complete mess. My confidence was zapped and I felt like a loser. A handful of students failed the exam. Frustrated, I took it personally and believed it to be my fault, somehow. Did I make it too hard? Did I not prepare my lessons well? Was there some magical technique that the senior faculty knew that I didn’t? I’m a terrible teacher, I thought.
Similarly, I had some students clearly show disdain towards me and my courses. I even got some negative comments on student reviews! Was I not nice and friendly? Some of those comments aren’t even true so what must I have done to be picked on? Is my teaching boring and worthless? I’m a terrible teacher, I thought again.
So I realized I’m not perfect. And after some reflection and mentoring, I realized neither are my students. Its easy to feel like the classroom of students are homogeneous but that can’t be further from the truth. I’ve got every shade of the rainbow in my classes and each student is an individual. No matter how passionate I am about the material, some students simply will not care. Some students have not learned great studying habits. Some are taking the class just to complete an elective. Some students think my stories are lame and my lectures boring. Some think they know better than me. Some students have personalities that don’t mesh well with mine.
I cannot be everything for everyone. I have to accept that. I am responsible for what I bring as a teacher but not what my students bring. You can bring a horse to water but can’t make it drink. With that, I am called to Christ-likeness and love them equally.
TALK TO EVERYONE
One of the things I love about journalism is what I learn from other people. I love listening to people’s experiences. I always find something I can take with me.
Any university is going to have a sizable staff that have a wealth of experience covering a wealth of topics. Taking the time to know my colleagues across campus opens my eyes to new teaching methods, resources, time management strategies, opportunities, and more. Teaching at a Christian university, I can hear how a business professor is incorporating the Bible into his lectures and adopt it myself. An English professor can share her favorite tool for helping with citation formatting. Going beyond my circle introduces me to new ideas I’d never have thought of.
I also learned to spend plenty of time with non-teaching staff, as well. I gain lots of insights into campus culture and activities by building relationships with secretaries, admission counselors, and even the food service employees. The added benefit of all this is I make plenty of friends to brighten my day!
IM JUST AS MUCH A STUDENT
I adopted a text on journalism and social media which had been published a year prior. It had some fresh ideas but I was surprised to see some of its strategies were already outdated. How could something so new already feel old? I might as well ask myself that question. Only a year out of the news business and some of what I know is already stale.
To be a great teacher, I have to be a great student. I constantly find myself trying to tap into the media vein. Furthermore, I need to study comprehensively various strategies, resources, and industry changes. Its like taking a world religions class where you are learning multiple, often conflicting beliefs.
Almost every free minute I get, I am reading and watching informative media, conversing with professionals, and consuming as much information relevant to my field, as possible. Take it as either exhausting or exhilarating but there is no end for the life-long learner.
A year under my belt. earning my red badge of courage, I find myself just as new as I did last fall. I believe that it will always be the case. While the task may be the same, every year will bring its own challenges, rewards, and lessons to be learned. I am grateful for the opportunity to be an educator. I am a pioneer on an unending quest of discovery.
America is at a boiling point when it comes to issues of police and community violence. Law enforcement nation-wide are beginning to make changes towards increased transparency and stronger community relations. While much discussion has been centered around police reform, communities are recognizing the need to heal from within.
In Oklahoma City, violent crimes plague the communities and create tension for the police. With crime rates well above the national average, residents of OKC are recognizing the need for change.
Milton Combs, founder of the PEOPLE Foundation, has worked with the OKC chapter of the NAACP and the police’s Citizen Advisory Board towards ending violence in the city. He says that Oklahoma City communities will need to be proactive in changing their neighborhoods.
“By doing forums. By having neighborhood meetings…By having the kinds of events where citizens can vent and they can also learn about what’s going on in their town to help police-community relations and then asking them to step up to the plate.”
This year, Combs and other community leaders have been involved in several such events. Back in March, the Oklahoma City NAACP and the non-profit, Ending Violence Everywhere, partnered with Oklahoma City police in their first ever Police and Community Trust Forum. The dialogue led to further discussions on how the community can work to decreasing crime.
Oklahoma City’s Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. is starting a campaign modeled after Al Sharpton and the National Action Network’s “Occupy the Corners” project.
Occupy the Corners OKC tonight at 6 on the corner of NE 23rd and MLK. Stand up; show up; speak up or shut up. #endgunviolence
— Jesse Jackson Jr. (@jessejackson_jr) June 13, 2015
In the shadow of the state capitol, the neighborhood around NE 23rd and MLK suffers greatly from the violence Rev. Jackson and others rally against.
On June 13th, nearly two dozen community leaders and residents met on the high-traffic, high-crime corner to advocate an end to gun violence.
— Xtian Netizen (@XtianNetizen) June 13, 2015
— Xtian Netizen (@XtianNetizen) June 13, 2015
— Xtian Netizen (@XtianNetizen) June 13, 2015
— Xtian Netizen (@XtianNetizen) June 13, 2015
Participants included pastors, non-profit organization leaders, NAACP members, and concerned residents. Speakers shared on the issues of violence in the community, how citizens can hold police accountable, and the need for deeper involvement. Rev. Jackson said this is all about doing the right thing.
“Our elderly people in our community deserve to feel safe. Our young people deserve to feel safe. We deserve to reclaim our neighborhoods as what they were, as what we remember.”
Looking forward, Rev. Jackson hopes support for “Occupy the Corners OKC” will grow. His ambition is to have multiple simultaneous rallies throughout Oklahoma City’s problem neighborhoods and begin a door-to-door outreach with their message.
“We’re here spreading love. We’re here saying that our lives matter. That your life has worth and that we need one another. We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters.”
My 2nd entry in my series, “Smartphone Storytelling,” was made with the desire to tell a different kind of story from my previous one. I wanted to work on a NATS package and try to pull it off with only a phone and laptop.
The story of, “Be Church and Bring Church,” arose out of my own personal experiences with church planting and missions and my father’s work as a church planter catalyst for the North American Mission Board. I set out to shed light on the challenges faced by church planters and the lack of support by believers. The call to the Great Commission is shared by every Christian but it is the Church’s apathy that has led to many frustrations and failures.
The hardest part of any NATS package is making sure your interviews go correctly. Its like a house of cards. Without solid interviews, the whole thing collapses. Interviewing with a smartphone is a even more complicated than what most backpack journalists deal with. The constant camera shake and limitations of the phone are coupled with the already consuming effort of conducting an interview.
The first interview with John Draper had a lot of issues. Wanting a more relaxed backdrop, we went to a cafe. However, the cafe ground its own beans and caused a lot of noise. Smartphones have omnidirectional microphones which will pick up any background noise. While I want to limit myself to only a phone and computer, I did want to test out a magnetic mini tripod I purchased for $40. It holds the weight of my Galaxy S5 nicely and can stick to any magnetized metal surface. I toyed with it only in this interview and may occassionally utilize it in the future.
The interview with Elie had to be recorded with my computer as I was using my phone to interview the church planter. While using it, I realized the possibility of doing a two camera shoot when combining the two. Set the laptop up for a wide shot and go closer with the smartphone. Synchronize to one audio source. I don’t know. Something to play around with someday.
The smartphone proved to be an excellent candid camera when recording in the church service and in public. A larger set of equipment would have not allowed me to, as freely, move where I wanted to. Almost everyone ignored me and I was able to snag some decent shots. However, capturing the worship leaders on stage led to the struggle with the limited zoom ability on smartphones.
Overall, I feel that I was able to tell a compelling NATS package. Checking off audio storytelling on my list of to-do’s, I hope to do a very visually striking piece in the near future. Stay tuned!
This is the beginning of an ongoing series I call, “Smartphone Storytelling,” an exploration of how smartphones can play new roles in journalism. Throughout the series, I will limit myself strictly to a smartphone (Galaxy S5) and a laptop (Macbook Pro). I will not use tripods, external microphones, car mounts, or any accessories beyond the built-in features of these two devices (excluding charging and transfer cables). This allows me to work solely with the tools that even the average highshool student would have access to. My hopes is to discover new approaches towards how journalists can use these devices and encourage everyone that, should they have these two basic tools, they have all the power to make their voice heard around the world.
PREVENTING BALTIMORE IN OKLAHOMA CITY
The story I worked on is titled, “Preventing Baltimore in Oklahoma City.” Previously living in Baltimore, I currently reside in Oklahoma City. I was drawn to the coverage of April’s protests that shook Baltimore. Having seen police-involved deaths here in Oklahoma, I wanted to see what changes were being made and needed to be made to prevent the events of Baltimore from happening here. Speaking with both police and community leaders, I crafted my story. However, anyone in journalism can say how a story changes at a moment’s notice. One moment of breaking news drastically changed everything.
STORYTELLING WITH A SMARTPHONE
This story, being the first, was really meant to be with my technical comfort zone. I did not envision any difficult shots or recording challenges when I started. In fact, the work was made very easy as the phone served a critical part in the story’s development. I conducted research on my phone, made calls, used it’s GPS to get me to the various locations, monitored social media (which is how I discovered the in-custody death), logged my recordings, and was even considering downloading a police scanner app. The combination of the built-in features and apps allow for a great deal of innovation.
Both interior interviews were straightforward. I sat down, supported my elbows with the desktop, and held the phone with both hands (always shooting horizontally). I made sure both the interviews were in a quiet space. Smartphones ‘ microphones act omnidirectionally and will pick up a lot noise. It was imperative to get my phone very close to my subjects (3-4 feet). This shortcoming was what prevented me from getting any useful audio during the press talk by the police at the scene of the in-custody death. Having arrived in the middle of it, I couldn’t get any closer and kept at a distance that picked up too much traffic noise. Recording my own track was perhaps the easiest and I was happy with the quality of the recording.
Broll became considerable harder to film due to the lack of a worthwhile zoom on the camera. The phone did a satisfactory job in capturing wide shots but limited my angles and ability to focus on specific subjects. The medium shots of the police cars suffered both from quality and camera shake. This would be the primary reason why a smartphone would face challenges in reporting on sports and other stories that require the ability to zoom in on the action. To get those great closeups, you physically will need to get closer (which can’t always happen).
At many points in the story, I used video and pictures from other sources. A quick search of “Baltimore protests 2015” under a creative commons filter on Youtube turned up solid video. I also got permission from Mr. Washington to use his videos and images on Facebook. Some online download tools, such as keepvid.com, allowed me to easily get what I needed. With just the one phone, I utilized my laptop’s camera to record my conversations with the OKC media. Additionally, I used Quicktime’s screen capture ability to get the broll of the OKC PD social media sites. All of it allowed me to have many more elements in crafting my story.
For this story, I can’t say I really pushed the boundaries of smartphone use. I did however demonstrate that a complex story can be told with simple tools. I look forward in future entries to have more opportunities to getting up close to subjects and seeing what I can really do.
It was the French journalist, Alphonse Karr, who said “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The advent of mobile technology and social media has both drastically altered the news business and also hardly changed it at all. A contradiction? No, it just depends on what you are examining. The relevance of these changes depend on whether you are speaking of the news organization or the journalist.
News organizations have had to adapt quickly to the era of the smartphone. People are engaging far differently with news content than ever before. According the American Press Institute, well over 70% of mobile device users utilize their devices for news consumption (API, 2014). News audiences are demanding immediacy from their news sources. The news organization must meet this growing demand with a vigilant online presence across multiple venues.
The news organization that creates content for traditional and digital audience benefits from increased viewership. While statistics demonstrate a large boost in digital audiences, the Pew Research Center shows healthy growth for broadcast news, as well (PRC, 2015). Local TV news has seen a 2-3% growth with national TV news growing by 2-5%. This data shows audiences are not choosing one media or the other but engaging news across a variety of platforms. News organizations that fully embrace their digital venues are seeing not only a larger audience but a more engaged audience.
Unlike ever before, audiences are more than just consumers but producers of the news. Whether they serve as news aggregators or even citizen journalists, audiences are now involved in the discussion alongside the reporters. Their added voices to the conversation is a double-edged sword. As stated previously, an engaged audience is certainly a boost for news organizations but that same audience creates an uncontrollable factor. The risk of a single bad tweet, a single inappropriate photo, a single piece of misinformation is ever present. Audiences are not bound to expectations of journalistic integrity. Additionally, the audience’s demand for immediacy dictates what journalists will cover and how it will be covered. News organizations now face the risks and challenges of engaging an audience who can talk back.
Yes, the things have changed. It seems as if the whole news world, for better or worse, has been turned on its head. My companion piece, Wagging the Dog, shows as much. However, the solution to all the challenges faced in this brave new digital world has always been known. Good journalism requires good journalists. In their book, “Advancing the Story: Journalism in a Multimedia World,” Debora Wenger and Deborah Potter write, “ As the technology used to manage the content becomes easier to navigate, multimedia journalism is likely to become less about knowing how to post a story or use a smartphone to capture video and more about the skills its takes to gather and present information that is relevant and compelling to an audience – regardless of whether that audience is watching, reading or interacting with the story.”
The role of a journalist has not and will not change. We are still expected to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent (SPJ, 2014). The advances in technology and audience engagement complicate our roles and will require more effort. However, the responsibilities of a journalist will remain the same across time, technology, and culture.
American Press Institute, 2014. “The Personal News Cycle: How Americans choose to get their news.” American Press Institute. 17 Mar, 2014. Web. 19, May, 2015.
Mitchell, A., 2015. “State of the News Media 2015.” The Pew Research Center. 29 Apr, 2015. Web. 19 May, 2015.
Wenger, Debora Halpern, and Deborah Potter. “The Multimedia Mind-set.” Advancing the Story: Journalism in a Multimedia World. Third ed. CQ, 2015. 11. Print.
SPJ, 2014. “SPJ Code of Ethics.” Society of Professional Journalists. 6 Sept, 2014. Web. 19 May, 2015