What it Means to Be an Online Journalist
Online Journalism manifests itself in many facets within the journalism world.
Employment: Online journalists may be employed full time by a major media organization, work as freelancers, recreationally cover news through a personal blog, do occasional reporting work to supplement income from another career, upload videos to news sites from protests and other newsworthy events, or run a bleeding edge, 100% digital publication.
Environments: Online journalists may work in offices, hotel rooms, their living rooms, doctor’s office waiting rooms, or even call center bathroom stalls.
Activities: Online journalists may provide research, present others’ research, edit others’ work, work on collaborative projects, regularly publish blog posts, conduct a large number of interviews, travel to far away lands to learn about important events, people, and places, and check the accuracy of other individuals’ work.
What binds all online journalists together?
- They contribute toward the dissemenation of news and information to the public through a regularly-updated channel
- At least some of their work is conducted or manifested online
Online journalists need not have degrees in journalism (though many do). They do not necessarily have special training. That said, they must have:
- Mastery of the English language
- Inherent curiosity
- Impressive tenacity
- Attention to detail
- A passion for uncovering the truth
The Perks of Becoming an Online Journalist
The perks accompanying online journalism include:
- A flexible schedule (should you choose to work as a freelancer)
- An exciting, fast-paced lifestyle
- The opportunity to meet and learn from a wide variety of people
- Special access (should you get press credentials) to exclusive events and conferences
- The opportunity to contribute to a more well-informed public
- Highly creative work (writing, photography, storytelling, video production, sound editing, etc.)
- The opportunity to learn about, research, and cover a subject about which you are extremely passionate
- Paid travel (should your employer support your coverage of stories in other cities or areas)
Major Myths Associated with Online Journalism
Before you jump onto the online journalism bandwagon, be aware that:
- Getting started is difficult and requires a great deal of work; there is no secret passageway that will take you straight to a high profile journalism position; you will have to pay your dues and work from the bottom up
- You will not earn much (the median income for reporters and correspondences reported by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics is $35,870), and may never be able to fully support yourself through your work as a journalist
- The work will be difficult and the hours will be long- even if you are self employed, call all the shots, and work from the comfort of your home, you will have to put in many, many hours of work even if you wish to be moderately successful
- You cannot be lazy about fact checking and verification; working in a modern format or working independently does not mean that you can neglect due diligence; it means that you need to devote more time and resources toward source verification and fact checking than any typical journalist had to in the past (most online journalists do not have the pleasure of working with editors or in-house fact checkers that will review the accuracy of their work for them)
- Wild, instant success is not common in this field (we cannot find a single example of it), so do not expect it
Major Trends in Online Journalism
Based on interviews, observation, and research, we have made note of the following trends within the realm of online journalism:
Self-employment: Over time, there will be even higher proportions of self-employed journalists
- Fewer jobs: Fewer salaried, full time positions will be available in the coming years
- More mobile news consumption: More and more people are consuming news on mobile devices; keep this in mind as you craft stories and consider formats (The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism reported in 2012 that 50% of Americans own a tablet or smartphone and 66% use their device to consume news; even in 2011, Pew Internet found that 47% of American Adults consumed local news on their mobile phones)
- More mobile news creation: Just as more news will be consumed using mobile devices, more news will be created using them (thanks to the growing diversity, utility, and user-friendliness of various apps, tablets, and smartphones)
- Use of Big Data: Data analysis will begin to play a larger role in journalism as businesses, governments, individuals, and organizations develop better data gathering and analysis tools
- Transition to digital only: Print publications will continue to transition to digital only publications (in 2012, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that “over the last five years, an average of 15 papers, or just about 1% of the industry, has vanished each year”)
- Branding to fight competition: With such low barriers to entry, competition for attention online will only increase, while a prestigious brand (which attracts those who just want information and don’t want to deal with the noise) may play a a larger and larger role in determining where audiences will flock
- Increased interactivity: News will continue to become more interactive thanks to social media and lower barriers between those who present news and those who consume it
- More use of multiple formats: More and more news will be disseminated across multiple formats (various online platforms, both mobile and desktop formats, and the occasional television / radio show and print publication), plus traditional publications will have more online or mobile-centric components that are meant to be consumed alongside a given newspaper/show/magazine
- Audiences as sources: More and more journalists will draw from sources accessed via social media (e.g. followers on Twitter) for material, verification, and even market research (to determine which stories are of interest)
- Popularity contests influencing coverage: News will continue to be driven and subsidized by content that drives traffic (and contributes to earnings); data-rich, in-depth, heavily-researched, highly-informational, “boring” news will more commonly be found in specific niche and B2B publications that can still be supported through paid subscriptions
- Rising importance of visuals: The value of visuals will continue to rise with the increased popularity and use of visual media and visual communications (e.g. everything from emoticons to memes and animated gifs) and will play ever-increasingly important roles in journalism and news coverage
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