Journalists need to learn to adapt to changing technology and the changing needs of audiences in the coming decade, a panel at Newsrewired concluded (27th November 2019).
Executive editor for the Financial Times Lyndsey Jones emphasised the need for reporters to be well equipped to report in a variety of different mediums, not just one that they are particularly strong at.
"We’re not only going to demand that you write well for online and print, but we also want you to be able to present live at events. You may even need to present in a foreign language if you work at the FT," she explained.
"You have to take yourself out of your comfort zone and learn new skills."
This does not just apply for journalists entering the industry; the FT regularly organises masterclasses for interns, trainees and current staff alike to ensure their reporters have the necessary tools in data visualisation, telling stories through video, and headline writing with search engine optimisation in mind.
A big year ahead for journalism
Blathnaid Healy, director, EMEA, CNN Digital International, shares this view, explaining that a reporter’s job no longer ends when they file their copy.
"From the point of commission, you need to think about who you are writing the story for, what is your story going to say, but also how you’re going to articulate it, whether that’s visually or graphics-led," Healy explained.
"You need to have a concept of what is good and collaborate to bring that story about."
With US presidential election on the horizon, not to mention Brexit and climate crisis all likely to still be on the agenda, Healy placed focus on strong reporting, context and analysis as core skills for 2020.
Rise of mobile journalism
But journalists also must consider how audiences are coming to the news now. The Digital News Report 2019 identifies just how popular mobile devices are with younger audiences, as nearly 70 per cent of under 35s use their smartphone as their main device for news.
“For journalists, editors, designers, developers, and all of the parts of the newsroom that collaborate together to bring great journalism to audiences, that means that the obsession with delivering stories via mobile needs to deepen even further," said Healy.
"We have to let mobile lead us in terms of how we articulate these stories and when we produce big, bespoke pieces that we care a huge amount about, we need to do that with our mobile audiences in mind."
Do not forget the basics
If anyone knows about emerging spaces in journalism, it is Europe editor for Forbes Alex Wood. He sold his successful startup, The Memo, to Forbes last year. He warned, however, that technological skills should not come at the cost of the most fundamental journalistic skill: speaking to humans.
Wood also works as a visiting lecturer at City, University of London. He said students will often publish stories almost word-for-word from the press release to avoid talking to sources.
"When I teach, I always watch carefully when we have a live newsroom environment. I count the number of minutes before someone picks up the phone.
"The phone call is the start of that journalistic process and I think the vacuum that we’ve had in the industry is around those fundamental core skills."
Create an environment for ideas
Part of the reasoning behind this could be imposter syndrome, a feeling that many journalists do not belong in their surroundings. It is important, he said, to encourage young people to test new digital ideas, and not come down too hard if they do not pan out.
“These are startup clichés, but it really does matter as technology is moving so fast. For example, I can’t keep up with TikTok and Snapchat, but I encourage my younger leaders to put their hands up and take leadership positions in that.”
But it is not that straight-forward for reporters to feel welcome. One solution, Healy said, is to pair reporters up with mentors with a focus on confidence building. In editorial meetings, she stressed, it is important to give young journalists the platform to have their say on the editorial agenda.
"Everyone has a stake in the product we are producing and work still needs to be done in terms of making sure everyone can find a voice."
Our next Newsrewired digital journalism conference will take place on the 4 June 2020 in Manchester. Book your early-bird ticket before 28 February 2020 to save yourself £50
Correction: A previous version of this article said that Alex Wood sold The Memo to Forbes in 2019. This has since been corrected to 2018.