Journalism’s Future Changing, But Positive

Watch this video to learn more about the $8 million renovation to the Reynolds School of Journalism

: From 1990 to 2009, newspaper circulation dropped 25 percent, with a sharp decrease beginning in 2004. Meanwhile, as the Internet has become available in many household, users have increased by 12,000 percent during the same two-decade period.Sources: Google Public Data (Internet use) and Newspaper Association of America (circulation figures).

As Internet use has increased greatly over the last 20 years, newspaper sales have dropped 25 percent, leading to fewer newspapers and reduced staff. However, the field of news writing recognizes the need to evolve with new technology while retaining its core principles.

The decline in sales has led to an estimated 30 percent reduction in news gathering and reporting staff at most newspapers, said Alan Stavitsky, Dean of Journalism at the University of Oregon.

“I think what’s happening with so fewer journalists on the street is that papers are much more selective about what they cover,” Stavitsky said.

Stavitsky has observed that his local paper, The Oregonian, has reduced the metro section from four or five pages daily to one or two pages. Sometimes a story that would have been a full article is now a paragraph or two.

Stavitsky describes journalism as an “ecology.” The newspaper is the single largest news source in a community and it generates ripples of information that move through a neighborhood.

However, the largest threat to print journalism, Stavitsky said, is the aggregators, online websites that gather news from main news sources and repost the information. This has led to fewer papers sold, which has led publishers to produce less news. Therefore, less ripples travel through a community.

But the Internet, along with its aggregators and bloggers, is not going away. With more than 230 million Americans using the Internet, people have become more knowledgeable about technology.

“The modern audience is very sophisticated when it comes to Internet tools and journalists need to keep up with the changes in technology,” said Reynolds School of Journalism professor Donica Mensing.

The difference, said Stavitsky, is that professional news writers create original and verifiable reporting, research their stories and are accountable for poor work. Journalists are trained professionals and go to the source of a story, something most bloggers do not do.

“When was the last time a blogger went to Iraq?” Stavitsky said.

“Much blogging is assertion based and closer to talk radio than news radio,” Stavitsky said. However, he added that the news field needs to take responsibility and “do a better job of promoting media literacy.”

The Internet is a new tool, but it does not change the “fundamental dynamic of the journalist communicating with the public,” Mensing said. She added that organizations like the Knight Foundation are promoting innovated changes in journalism.

These changes in technology have put more responsibility on the journalist, Mensing said. “A journalist was responsible for just the content and someone else took care of distributing it. Now the acts of production and distribution are intertwined.” With social media like Facebook and Twitter, a journalist has more contact with readers and feedback is immediate.

While the advances in technology have created new challenges and opportunities for news writers, new ethical problems have raised concerns for the industry.

“We used to have a clear distinction between what is personal and what is public. And now that line is erased. Can I look at their Facebook page and use that information? Can I use their pictures posted on a social media site? Is this person I am chatting with online in Egypt verifiable?” Mensing said regarding ethics.

Stavitsky added that other ethical concerns exist since the tools of creation and distribution are in everybody’s hands. One trend that concerns him is that television news organizations air citizen generated material without verifying the context, legitimacy or agenda of the material.

But newspapers, which need to be concerned with selling advertising and papers, have needed to change not only the way they distribute news, but also how they report.

“Before we were very focused on digital, we were pretty much out of the breaking news business,” said Beryl Love, editor of the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Instead, said Love, newspapers would focus on a follow-up story for the following day based on changing events after the original story ran. However, now reporters are expected to report breaking news through the use of newer technology such as video cameras, camera phones and other portable media tools so that the latest news will be posted on the Reno Gazette-Journal’s website within a short amount of time.

“On the print side, we are trying to be more specialized … providing analysis and context. But on the digital side we are completely back in the breaking news business,” Love said, adding that the paper was no longer on a 24-hour news cycle but a continuous news cycle.

While Love acknowledges that there are challenges on the business side of the industry, he said that journalism itself is stronger than ever.

“Journalism has never been more healthy because we reach more people we ever did with just print alone and we engage our audience more than we ever did before. And we not only have our own content that we provide but we’re a great portal to the community.”

The classic image of the reporter in a dark room saturated with the rat-a-tat-tat sound of metal keys striking the platen of a manual typewriter is gone. Now it has been replaced with the muted tapping of a computer keyboard and the beeps and chirps of cellphones. However, the job remains the same, to inform the public with accurate, verified and well-researched information and provide a forum for the issues that face a community.

Copyright 2011 Paul George

Should You Consider Journalism As A Major?

While some students enter college with a concrete plan to study a specific major, others enter higher education as undeclared, having yet to decide on a field of study. With Journalism, which has faced some challenges over the last decade due to changing technology (see main story), many in the education and business community believe it is an excellent choice for a major.

“I think that now, more than ever, with so much information, there is a need for trained professionals to make sense of the amount of information available,” said Alan Stavitsky, Dean of Journalism at the University of Oregon.

With the Internet and constant access to information through tables and cellphones, Stavitsky said, more people require good information.

Listen to Reno Gazette-Journal editor Beryl Love discuss why journalism is a worthwhile major and how students can be better prepared to enter the field.

Reynolds School of Journalism Academic Chair Rosemary McCarthy believe that everybody should consider journalism as a major.

“Journalism majors are learning about journalism at a really exciting and important time,” McCarthy said.

“People in a self-governing democratized society need information to function,” McCarthy said, adding that the media has the responsibility to inform the electorate.

Now students learn methods of gathering and sharing information that use modern technology and social media websites, McCarthy said.

The Reynolds School of Journalism offers journalism as either a major or minor for undergraduates who attend the University of Nevada, Reno. It also offers an Interactive Journalism Masters Program for graduates.

Copyright 2011 Paul George


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