I hear the same questions from editors and media advisers:
How do we get our staff to think digital first?”
It’s an excellent question. The short answer is that thinking digital first is all about breaking habits. Traditional print journalists have enjoyed the luxury of allowing a lot of news to unfold before they’ve had to report anything to the public. This has guarded us from the errors so common in breaking news and helped protect our credibility.
Although these journalistic values still are important, we can no longer wait for the late deadline for tomorrow’s edition to apply them. The audience now expects information within minutes of an event happening.
The student journalists I advise do pretty well with breaking news on social media. But they struggle when it comes to getting those initial stories online and, even more so, they habitually save content for the newspaper’s print edition, I think for fear that they won’t have enough content.
These ways of thinking don’t work for today’s journalists. It’s time to break those habits and begin to think like digital first journalists.
What is a digital first journalist?
A digital first journalist thinks about the future first, according to Steve Yelvington.
It requires restructuring all your priorities. Not just when you do it, but what you do and how you do it. It requires grasping what is different about digital media—and leveraging those differences.”
How is digital journalism different?
There are many differences in digital and traditional media. Yelvington wrote that digital first journalists should consider three key differences:
1. Time – everything we do as journalists is changing and it is doing so quickly.
2. Surplus – people have access to more information than ever before. What makes the information you provide or how you provide it better? In other words, what are you doing for your audience or giving them that others aren’t?
3. Control – you must give the audience control. Traditional media no longer control the information. The time to attempt control of the information is gone. Instead, Yelvington suggests you figure out how to lead.
How does digital journalism change information gathering?
Digital journalists think first about using digital platforms to report the news, according to Steve Buttry. He wrote:
We publish newspapers as well, but newspapers cannot drive our work. Newspapers are a shrinking audience and revenue stream and our digital community and revenue stream are growing. Our survival demands a digital focus.”
Buttry recommends that digital journalists make the following priority:
- Work and think first for digital platforms
- Experiment and take risks
- Try new tools & techniques
- Cover news live
- Join, stimulate, curate and lead the community conversation
- Engage the community in your coverage
What does digital journalism do?
Digital journalism still serves an audience by providing information, but the mediums through which that information is delivered differ. The methods through which the audience choses to accept the information also are different.
This means journalists must accept responsibility to the audience, not just to the news, Yelvington wrote. To create this audience responsibility, journalists must do three things, according to Yelvington:
1. Tell them what is happening now and what it means. The audience is not passive. Help them participate.
2. Help them find information they need in their daily lives. News that has application to them will be more well-received.
3. Help them connect with people. They want to have a conversation and create a community.
So, back to our original question:
How must a digital journalist think?
Buttry wrote a post about 10 Ways to Think Like a Digital Journalist. The post is about ways digital journalists think differently than traditional journalists. A couple of points that stood out to me:
1. A Digital First Journalist views a story as a process, not a product.
2. A Digital First Journalist thinks of obstacles as details in her next war story, not as an excuse not to get the job done.
3. When a Digital First Journalist learns of a new gadget or social tool, he starts trying to figure out how to use it to do better journalism.
4. A digital First Journalist thinks journalism has a bright and boundless future.
I love the last one because it truly is how I see journalism. The storytelling tools we have today level the playing field where immediacy and timeliness are concerned and allow the audience to receive information in a variety of ways.
How can I help my newsroom embrace digital journalism?
Buttry recommends that journalism schools and student media make changes throughout to become digital first. His recommendations include:
Structure – student media need a single content-gathering team that focus first on gathering information for digital platforms.
Live coverage – student journalists covering events or breaking news should provide live coverage through methods such as livetweeting, livechatting or livestreaming. Buttry strongly recommends the live coverage method for sporting events, and suggests this may be a good place to start.
Technology – advisers must provide students with the technology they need to develop news for multiple platforms. We cannot expect them to change their mindsets and embrace this work if we don’t provide them with the tools to do so.
Audience – student media products should serve different audiences. Those available only on campus should serve the campus community. Digital media should be more far-reaching, serving those on and off campus.
Social media – all social mediums and the effective use of these tools should be taught in classes and through training to assist student media in learning to use these tools effectively.
It’s an exciting time in the media industry, but harnessing the changes in our industry requires breaking old habits and embracing new ways of thinking. Training as digital journalists is no longer an option—it’s a necessity to keep from becoming obsolete. This post represents what I see as some of the key ideas from two leaders in this area of education. What would you add to the conversation?