Five Tips for the Freshman Journalism Student

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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.

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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!

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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.

LEARN EVERYTHING

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.

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START NOW

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.

Smartphone Storytelling: Preventing Baltimore in Oklahoma City

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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.

Why the Digital Revolution Changes Nothing

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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.

References:

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

The Maddening State of News Media

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“Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly Meaningless! Everything is Meaningless!” So begins the book of Ecclesiastes and my assesment of the current state of the news media. With over a decade in journalism and mass communication, I find that genuine journalism is slowly being strangled by the very organizations dedicated to it. I’m not alone. A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll indicates only 36% of Americans believe the media is accurate. In 1999, 125 senior journalists were polled. 70% of the respondents felt more negatively about most news organizations (Daily Source). What could lead to such ill-favor? “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” 1 Timothy 6:10. News has always been plagued with walking the line between being a community service and making profit. After all, journalists have to eat. However, recent trends have tipped the scale for profit to drive the news.

Innovation and recent technology have made news more accessible than ever. However, this has led to a insane battle amongst news organizations to maintain ratings and revenue. The growth of 24-hour news networks turned a rat-race into something even worse. Air time was given to news pundits. Sensationalism and entertainment put in a suit and called a journalist. Bill O Reilly, Nancy Grace, Rush Limbaugh and many others drew in ratings and money. This has now become the state of 24-hour news networks. For example, MSNBC’s primetime schedule is entirely comprised of pundits (MSNBC). Where’s the news?

Newspapers aren’t above criticism either. The higher profit and effeciency of consolidation is why nearly 80% of all newspapers are owned by mult-newspaper chains. Does the public notice? Why, yes! A study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors revealed that 59% of Americans saw newspapers caring more about profit than public good (Daily Source).

The local news fairs no better. The poor local news station must not only battle rivals but also must contend with the audience shift towards online media. This has created an environment where short deadlines and late-breaking news trump logic and integrity. Its that very environment that incidents like the one at KTVU-TV occur. In 2013, an Asiana flight crashed in San Francisco, killing 3. The National Transportation Safety Board released the names of the four pilots on the flight. KTVU-TV, desparate to be first, bypassed any critical review and went on air. The names? Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Li Fuk, and Bang Ding Ow (SF Gate). Better yet, justwatch it. While this may be an extreme example, journalism suffers when ratings and money drive it. My time in newsrooms saw daily lapses in thinking and integrity by both my own station and others. Too many times have I seen news directors push crews to get on-air with no confirmed info. I have been rushed to take the news vehicles out or go in the chopper to cover unconfirmed news, only to be returned later after discovering it to be a false alarm. The pressure to be live and late-breaking is felt by journalists everywhere. A study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors found that 34% of the surveyed journalists said the “rush to deadline,” was a major factor in mistakes. The remainder cited company issues with carelessness, inexperience, being overworked, and understaffed as primary reasons (Daily Source).

Confidence in the media has been shaken. In a Gallup poll, TV and print journalism have both dropped in public confidence by more than 10% in the past 10 years (Gallup). The studies show it. The public and many journalists know that the state of news media is profit-driven and sloppy. So why don’t more journalists make a stand against the system? Sadly, the answer is once again money. In the age of consolidation, either drink the company kool-aid or lose your job. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t.

What I truly believe will bring about real change is the consumer’s response. In this fast-food diet world, consumers just simply don’t seem to care they are being malnourished with poor news. We know its bad for us. We can state it during a poll or survey. However, we continue to be consumers of the journalistic equivalent of a Big Mac. We simply don’t care. More people have viewed Gangam Style than the first US black president’s inauguration. That is the state of journalism. Its meaningless until consumers demand better. Its meaningless until news organizations prioritize community over profit. Its meaningless until journalists can pour themselves into telling good stories instead of making the deadline.

Sources:

Daily Source. (2014, September 17). Current Problems in the Media. Retrieved October 19, 2014 from http://www.dailysource.org/about/problems#.VERNy_nF-wl

MSNBC. MSNBC TV Schedule. Retrieved October 19, 2014 from http://www.msnbc.com/schedule

Matier. Ross. (2013, July 24). KTVU firings over airing of prank Asiana pilots’ names. Retrieved October 19th, 2014 from http://blog.sfgate.com/matierandross/2013/07/24/2074/

Dugan, Andrew. Americans Confidence in News Media Remains Low. Retrieved October 19th, 2014 from http://www.gallup.com/poll/171740/americans-confidence-news-media-remains-low.aspx