Five Tips for the Freshman Journalism Student

Shawnee News 30
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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.

Shawnee News 30

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.

#BeMoreDigital

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Last week, I had the pleasure to attend OBEA’s Student Day held at OETA. I was greatly impressed by the presentation on the growth of digital content by OETA’s own digital/social media producers. Their works apire to change PBS’s image of being old-fashioned and attract millenials with technology/pop culture content via online videos. Their digital content strategy was presented under the hashtag “BeMoreDigital.”

I read articles about how different local TV stations utilize digital content. The biggest take away is that there are no hard rules. We are all pilgrims in a new land. Some stations utilize social media and digital content for promoting the brand or main content platform (broadcast, newspaper, etc). Others are creating innovating original content that suppliments other works. Neither is right or wrong but both need to happen to be effective.

In the early 2000’s, it was said that we were in a culture of two screens. We watched TV and surfed the net simultaneously. For a rather recent term, we are already beyond that. We are now in the era of three screens. The smartphone has joined the family.

Its the State of the Union. I watch the president speak live from my television. I read live commentaries from political analysts on news sites. I tweet followers and read tweets by the public. I am monitoring and dialoguing on multiple platforms to get a deeper understanding.

Depth. That is what is being desired with digital content. Audiences may see traditional journalism platforms as too 2-dimensional. According to the Pew Research Center, 82% of Americans were getting news from computers with 54% saying they received it from mobile devices in 2013. Digital content allows more immediate and deeper coverage of stories. Check cnn.com. Articles often feature a video below the header, story highlights on the side, and additional hyperlinked content throughout the piece. This gives a consumer to gain a deeper understanding than a newscast would allow. Even twitter’s limited 140 characters allows video, photos, and links to be incorporated. Audiences want depth and digital content does that.

News organizations and Digital Media companies already recognize this. The Pew Research Center indicates a significant hiring boom with many Digital News organizations like Vice, Mashable, and the Huffington Post. Even traditional news outlets are training and hiring journalists who can produce and post digital content. These media companies understand that surviving means being more digital.

Creating exclusive content is one of the strongest ways of being more digital. Utilizing social media for promotions and engaging the audience is good but what is most attractive is adding depth. OETA started several digital programs like the “Idea Channel,” and “The Okie Nerd Geekcast.” I’ve seen some local stations post content during the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” that swept the nation. News organizations post exclusive reporter packages, full-length interviews, behind-the-scenes segments, and other content on digital platforms.

As the faculty advisor for a student-run TV station, I reflect on digital strategy I could employ. News 30 is the weekly cable access news program, run by students at Oklahoma Baptist University, for the city of Shawnee. With only one newscast per week, I see great applications of the challenge to be more digital. I envision daily 3-5 minute newscasts, exclusive reporter packages, spotlights on local residents and organizations. I believe that embracing digital content allows for hyper-local journalism that a community will gather around. I look forward to its implementation at OBU.

I do not ring the death bell for traditional journalism venues. Research, actually, shows their growth. I do recognize that new platforms are available and these platforms have an audience. For journalists to continue to engage the public with news, we need to get online. We need to #bemoredigital.

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