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The Grand Collaboration: The Future of Journalism

Posted by Dak Dillon on September 11, 2008

            At the packed Grand Collaboration session today, it quickly became clear that print journalists are not the only ones worried about the future of their industry. In fact, television journalists might be even more anxious. Tensions became so high that at one point the session devolved into a virtual shouting match.

            The session started out calmly enough. Max Utsler, MA ’73, opened with comments on the opportunities for radio and TV journalists today. He then asked various panel members to discuss some of the innovative things going on in television. Candy Altman, MA ’78, spoke of how three of her stations are experimenting with different newsgathering tools in an attempt to do more through multimedia. David Smith, BJ ’73, jumped in saying that “as of this week, Gannett redefined employment at a TV station.”

At many big TV station groups such as Gannett and Scripps, there are no more individual journalist, web manager, etc. positions. Instead, companies are hiring mass media journalists who can shoot, report, edit, and host at all platforms. “You have to have those skills to get the jobs that will be available at many stations,” Smith said.  Not all journalists should despair-Smith said that investigative reporters will still have their jobs, as will some reporters with “special assignments.” Christine Xie, MA ’01, also talked about the change in the way that television reporters have to work, saying that because of faster deadlines, “you need to work faster…and more efficient[ly].”

            That is when the great debate started. Most of the journalists in attendance see the change in the profession as a major problem. Many were concerned that technical proficiency is going to replace good storytelling. David Smith, who at times seemed to be the lone voice in favor of the changes, said “we can all sit here and stick our heads in the sand if we want…” later adding, “this isn’t anything anyone loves…but the ship has sailed…” Others were definitely less willing to stand back and accept the change. “If we create an industry of people that can do everything ok, what kind of industry are we creating?” questioned Altman.

Many journalists are concerned about their job security. The more things change, the greater the chance of them being fired in favor of someone younger becomes. Katherine Clements, however, gave the other side’s perspective. “What we’d want to hire are the great journalists that can do everything…our business is shrinking. We are not a growth industry anymore. We are an advertiser supported media…”

Although most of the panel consisted of people either being completely anxious about or completely resigned to a total change in their jobs, one audience member brought a little bit of perspective. She reminded everyone that when CNN started, people declared it the end of the network. “In 30 years of TV…the only thing that is consistent is how much it’s changed,” she said.

Story by Stacey Schutzman, Photos by Dak Dillon, view more pictures here

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