Gazette photojournalist and certified remote pilot Nick Rohlman operates a drone on Dec. 12. 5, he filmed the gate delivery on First Avenue East in downtown Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slossialake/The Gazette)
Technology dramatically changed the newspaper industry in the 1990s with the development of the Internet and the “World Wide Web”, allowing journalists to trace sources, interact with readers and provide endless research and information, all just a click away.
Newspapers were the first to embrace the web, but have faced many challenges over the past three decades, knowing which information to trust from the multitude of websites created over the years.
Journalists have faster access to information, “It’s a good thing that there’s all kinds of raw data available, just a keystroke away — but there’s also misinformation out there,” says Boston University professor emeritus in Massachusetts and former AP national correspondent .
Fred Bayless, Professor Emeritus, Boston University. (Photo provided)
“We can find anyone now, even the hard-to-find people,” said Bayles, who has been a reporter for 30 years, including covering the Gulf War, the Exxon Valdez disaster and the OJ Simpson murder investigation.
Bales said in a phone interview that he sounded like the old guy who was “complaining” about those new electric typewriters in the newsroom back in the day. But new technologies have made it more difficult to distinguish between legitimate and fake sources, especially recently, when sifting through social media feeds.
“There’s less shoe leather on the street, but it also opens the door for hoaxes — false witnesses (in news events),” Bayless cites as an example. “Sometimes, walking down the street and knocking on doors gives you a better sense of what’s going on.”
The 24/7 news cycle puts pressure on newspapers and broadcast media to be the first to review all facts or knowledge More facts prior to phone interview.
A. Randall Wenner, Broadcast Journalism Facility Coordinator and Lecturer at Syracuse University. (Photo provided)
“There are typical mistakes made in finding the balance,” said Wenner, who was a reporter and broadcast producer for 12 years and a journalism lecturer for 30 years. “I think the philosophy that most people realize should not just be the first, but be the first with verified information and facts.”
Bayless agreed, reflecting on what happened during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, when suspects were falsely accused and news outlets felt pressure to continue reporting due to speculation on social media and other sources.
Media outlets also have to change their mindset, allowing them to be “first,” Wenner said, and realize they have to reveal their “exclusives” to the competition while giving “exclusives” to viewers and readers.
“There are fewer breaking news stories at 6 p.m.,” Wenner said. “Right now, we’re tweeting out recaps or trailers to keep viewers interested.”
Wenner said the industry will only be able to keep up with demand if it adopts more technology. Journalists have to become multimedia journalists. As well as writing for print and digital platforms, they must now learn to shoot video and use audio clips to highlight real voices in stories.
In broadcast, these journalists had to learn to write long-form articles for their digital sites, while print journalists had to adapt some of their long-form articles into short articles because many viewers only had time for a quick summary and were now consuming the news via smart cell phone.
In a very short period of time, different platforms have been developed as well as social media sites that journalists can use to publish snippets of their stories and link to newspaper or radio station websites to attract audiences – not accessible through the media’s websites alone to the people.
More and more journalists are reporting events in real time to meet immediate information needs. Some have started live-blogging criminal trials, political debates, legislative and local city decisions, as well as voting and sporting events.
Bayles listed live blogging as a new journalistic skill in his 2011 “Field Guide to Local News Reporting” — police, courts, schools, emergencies and government. He highlighted the live blogging of criminal trials that Gazette reporters started in 2009, along with several other newspapers.
Some live coverage has seen hundreds of viewers a day following high-profile murder trials, including Mark Becker, who killed Parkersburg/Applington coach Ed Thomas in 2009, and Mark Becker, who was convicted in 2020 of killing Parkersburg/Applington coach Ed Thomas in 1979. Jerry Burns was convicted of Cher Martinko. Cedar Rapids.
Bayles describes the blogs as “creating a virtual bystander gallery where viewers can follow trials, comments, exclamations, questions, and vents in real time.” He said he thought live coverage of a trial or other live event, such as a rally, would be valuable to readers because it provided transparency and they could watch the event as it unfolded.
Another skill some journalists employ is developing podcasts, which have grown in popularity, Wenner said. Others besides journalists use podcasts to focus on a variety of genres, including true crime, sports, politics, education, personal health, religion, science, and history.
The Gazette has a Gazette Daily News podcast, and its sports writers started doing podcasts about 10 years ago, including the On Iowa Podcast.
Smartphones have come and gone over the years, providing journalists with a variety of tools.
“Everyone has a tool in their pocket,” Wenner said. “It’s second nature to young journalists because they’ve grown up with technology.”
Journalists must develop additional skills by learning how to take good photos and video from the field and capture high-quality sound to engage audiences and keep them interested. They also need to learn editing skills to use these tools, Wenner added.
Mobile phones also offer citizen journalists or activists the opportunity to share information — which can be a good or bad thing, Wenner said. It offers more voices — or perspectives — but can confuse viewers who might not be able to tell the difference between a trained reporter and someone who only presents one side of an issue.
He noted that a reporter learns best practices, journalistic ethics and writing skills to present a fair and balanced article.
“We (reporters) learn by doing,” Wenner said. “Just picking up a tool and using it isn’t going to happen. You have to have the art of storytelling and building that trust.”
It’s an “exciting time” for journalists because there are now so many different ways to tell a story, Wenner said.
He does see the challenge of telling a deep story because some readers won’t invest or don’t have the time to invest in it. The younger generation wants those fast, fresh catchphrases.
He had a hard time getting his students to read longer passages. Wenner said he hopes that will change as students get older and different experiences spark their interest in learning more about their communities.
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