After Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected in 2009, Twitter played a major role, sometimes the key role, in providing news of the protests to the rest of the globe. “In a news vacuum, amateur videos and eyewitness accounts became the de facto source for information,” wrote The New York Times’ Brian Stelter in a piece outlining that major media sources including the Times, Huffington Post, The Guardian and CNN relied on digital media feeds from non-professional journalists in Iran.
There is no turning back – we are in the age of new media journalism. While anyone with a smart phone or a tablet is capable of spreading the news to masses of people around the world, it does not mean there is no longer a role for journalists. Audiences still value a well-researched story, an enlightening interview and professionally shot photographs and videos. Talented and skilled journalists are successfully adapting and evolving just like the media they are using to spread their messages.
What is New Media?
Believe it or not, the term “new media” has been around since the 1970s, according to Iowa State University’s Studio for New Media; and its definition is constantly changing with each new wave of technological advancements. Currently, it may refer to new and emerging technologies including tablets, smart phones and any other mobile reading devices or tools capable of accessing the Internet. It also refers to the digital media presented on these devises, such as news apps, blogs and websites, social media postings and chats, feeds, online newspapers and magazines, flash animations, videos and podcasts. New media journalism has the potential of reaching larger audiences in a shorter period of time and often leads to a greater interaction between journalists and readers/viewers. It is also often equated with multimedia meaning two or more modes of communication are used simultaneously and cooperatively to tell a story.
The Role of the New Media Journalist
“That’s why I, who spent most of my career in newspapers, teach new media – so my students and I can define the new forms that journalism must take to reconnect with people in a digital age,” wrote Paul Grabowicz, Director of the New Media Program at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. “And how we can make solid, in-depth reporting more valuable than computers for these new news consumers,” he adds referring to younger generations who tend to solely rely on the Internet for information.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, journalism jobs within the realm of new media are most promising. New media journalism is becoming a field where professional reporters/editors multi-task and develop multiple talents. Their position is no longer limited to writing or speaking. Often they must also take photographs or shoot videos, design the layout for a multimedia website or promote their message through social media. New media journalists must rely on both verbal and visual skills and continuously learn about and keep up with the advancements in digital media. They must learn the most effective means to layout stories as part of a tablet app versus a website, flipbook or other e-publication. They also must experiment with how to best present the message, striking a fine balance between the multimedia involved, so as to not distract the audience from that key message.
Although new media provides for a more interactive and visually stimulating experience, it does not mean the actual information/reporting should be neglected. With so many questionable stories and “facts” presented online, it is vital that journalists maintain their integrity and fulfill their ethical goal of striving to present the truth.
New media also opens up more doors for journalists to freelance or even commence their own online publication. Thus such professionals, in addition to communications skills, often must develop entrepreneurial abilities.
The Influence of Social Media
Nowadays, online users may first encounter a breaking news story, not through a print or online newspaper, but via their Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus account. Instead of looking at social media as “competition,” journalists can take advantage of such viral communications. Firstly, reporters and editors can directly interact with their readers/viewers via social media sites and even find out what kind of stories appeal to them. In some cases, journalists are inspired by posts and tweets they read and come away with a good story idea or several subjects to interview for an upcoming piece. Online newspapers, magazines, websites and newswires can also increase their readership/viewership through promoting themselves via social media. Even print publications can increase their audience through creating an online presence. It’s small wonder that social media careers are popping up across all industries.