MEDIA & DIGITAL CULTURE
Although there is debate over who originally said it 50+ years ago, the idea continues to guide how we perceive the impact and role of technological advancements in society today. “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” Whether said by Winston Churchill, John Culkin or communication theorist Marshall McLuhan, the phrase has become a truism of the Information Age. Media and digital communication have established a pervasive role in our lives and despite all the rapid change we have experienced so far, we as a culture are only at the very beginning stages of much larger and more significant cultural shift. Within that broader cultural conversation, current debates over the impact of technology, Internet addiction, smartphones on children and even distracted driving are just the beginning.
That impact on media and digital culture is too broad to explore thoroughly in one place, but Mediashi focuses on a few key areas of interest for today’s media professionals as they work to diversify their skill set, build an agile career path and strive to find both success and balance in an age of disruption.
RISE OF THE MULTIMEDIA JOURNALIST
In the early 2000s, several major U.S. television news networks shuttered many of their remaining foreign bureaus and replaced those teams with a single multimedia journalist. The concept of a single journalist with a diverse skill set able to shoot, write, edit and produce their own stories in the field without a crew wasn’t new for the media industry. However, advancements in Internet speed, file compression, smart devices and wireless technology would soon mean that these multimedia journalists could also file reports or even go live from anywhere in the world without relying on traditional infrastructure. Was the quality of their work on par with that of a seasoned correspondent with a veteran production crew? Perhaps not, but they got the job done and they did it faster, easier and for less money.
The role of the multimedia journalist in today’s newsroom is quickly becoming the norm rather than the exception. Strong journalism and writing remain the core of their work, but they also need to write to each medium, adapting each story to the unique conventions of video, radio, print, web and even social media storytelling. They’re also expected to stay fluent in digital production with a strong grasp on recording technology, audio/video production, non-linear editing and studio engineering to some degree so they can rise to every challenge and quickly troubleshoot problems when they arise.
University journalism departments began transitioning their programs to meet these new demands in recent years, but industry innovation, fueled in large part by economic pressure on news organizations, has far outpaced academic reengineering. That’s left today’s aspiring multimedia journalists on their own to learn and maintain the skills they need to succeed in today’s newsrooms.
LIFE AFTER JOURNALISM
The same economic pressures that gave rise to the multimedia journalist and the need to constantly expand their skill sets has also left many talented journalists and editors either unemployed or interested in transitioning out of journalism. Whether they’re seeking better salaries or more job security, the same digital communication advances that put pressure on newsrooms have also created whole new classes of alternative careers for journalists.
While a career in public relations was long seen as the primary exit point for journalists leaving the newsroom, the options today have expanded as companies increasingly build their own content marketing and production teams. Radio news veterans are building strong careers in the corporate podcast space. Television correspondents are launching custom documentary services. The opportunities are only growing, but true media professionals with agile skill sets who can quickly shift from writing to editing to technical studio production and digital communication strategy are still few and far between. To succeed in this ever evolving career space, professionals need to continually develop new skills that expands the scope of work they can deliver and the value they offer to a diverse set of employers.
As we explore the pervasive role of media and digital communication in our lives today with an eye toward both the opportunities and challenges for individuals and society as a whole, we also need to recognize the value of digital minimalism to varying degrees. Although we live in the Information Age, information overload is a very real thing. Access to mountains of knowledge and interactions at any moment through our smartphones can prove just as distracting as it is amazing.
As with all things in life, balance is key. The information revolution came so suddenly, though, that it skipped the traditional process of evolution and adaptation, making digital communication and associated technologies major disruptors in society. Just look at the number of people on the street staring at their smartphones instead of talking to one another or interacting with the world around them. Digital minimalism isn’t about eschewing technology, but rather weighing technology’s role in our everyday life so we can learn how to make deliberate decisions about how we live our lives today and the example we set for our children tomorrow.