No more notepads: new tech is making journalists’ lives easier
As newsroom jobs decline, we analyze the main problems facing modern journalists, and how new technology is lightening the load.
Amit Rathore is the founder & CEO of Quintype, a data-driven platform for publishers.
The news industry has changed dramatically since it was hit by a ‘media downturn’ at the end of the 2000s. Leading publications were forced to cut newsroom jobs and pursue more hi-tech methods of gaining income such as digital subscriptions, paid advertising, and sponsored video content.
Between March 2006 and September 2014, “the number of newsroom jobs fell by 33 percent,” according to the Pew Research Center and “daily and weekly newspapers shuttered their doors with increasing frequency”.
The trouble goes right to the top, with even the most well-known, well-funded publications slicing staff. In early 2016, the New York Times announced it would be laying off hundreds of journalists by the end of the year.
Catastrophic newsroom cuts across the globe have pushed many journalists to follow careers in more stable industries like PR, or to try and support themselves by ‘freelancing’ for multiple publications as a means of making ends meet. But for those who are still in the industry, there are some new tools which are softening the blow, and making aspects of the day-to-day lives of modern journalists and editors easier.
So what are the main problems facing modern journalists, and how is new technology lightening the load?
One of the main problems facing journalists now, is surviving in the face of competition from millions of ‘citizen journalists’ around the world. Advances in smartphone technology, and the ever growing popularity of social network giants like Instagram and Facebook means that people can ‘break’ news at a seconds notice. As a result, smartphones have become journalist’s most important tool, and greatest enemy.
Oliver Griffin, British freelance journalist and contributor for The I and The Raconteur states: “Technology has facilitated the rise of citizen reporting and made life more difficult for foreign correspondents. Papers can now source stories from local reporters, who know more, but on the flipside face greater danger in their home countries and have less protection from the paper.”
Due to the added competition, keeping up with trends and writing stories which will engage readers is extremely important. Tools like Buzzsumo, Feedly and Newswhip Spike allow busy journalists to check which topics are trending where and what time, and use analytics to assess the strength of a potential story in real time.
Vikas Shukla, former journalist and co-founder of Education publication Quantov writes: “As a busy journalist you need to stay one step ahead of trends. There is no point spending hours each day reading the leading papers to see what the top stories are. You need to use technology to push you in the right direction, so it’s your story on the front page. I use Buzzsumo to find the trending topics, analyse content, and find influencers in my niche.”
Working in difficult environments
An age old problem for journalists has been taking notes, and ‘first hand’ documentation of what is going on, while in stressful or life threatening situations. In the aftermath of a disaster, or when in a dangerous environment, it is not always feasible –or safe– to start jotting down notes or do interviews.
Oliver Griffin continues: “Smartphones have killed shorthand as instead of frantically scribbling notes journalists can now just record voice messages. They can also shoot films and take photos from the scene, and then post them ‘live’ on leading social media sites.”
New technology is also offering journalists a means of using real people on the ground to shoot videos and photos and offer comments which can be used in the media. Apps such as Periscope and WhatUSee allow journalists who cannot make it in person, to search for users in a particular geographical zone, and request that they send photos and videos live from the scene.
With ever diminishing static newsrooms, editors are forced to work with a number of freelance or remote writers at any one time, which poses an organizational challenge. Writers and editors are often spread amongst different time zones and geographical regions which further complicates matters.
It is important for writers to be able to communicate with each other for tips and suggestions, and also with editors about trends, deadlines and edits. As a result, many remote teams are turning to tools such as Slack and Google chat to take up the strain.
Elizabeth Tenety, a former Washington Post editor and co-founder of Motherly writes: “We have a story ideas channel on Slack where editors and writers are encouraged to write down random ideas as they come to them, and help one another to brainstorm. We also have a “Flare” box—a channel for any crazy ideas that come to our writers about how we can best grow and engage our users. We encourage our team to use technology not just to stay organized, but to get inspired and feel free to bring really out-of-the-box ideas to the table.”
When running an efficient publication, organization and meeting deadlines is extremely important. Timing is everything in the news, and missing a deadline by even one day could make your story redundant. As a result, editors and journalists use a range of new tools to organize their workflow, assign tasks and manage deadlines.
Sergio Ramos, editor of Social Geek, writes: “I have writers working all over Latin America and the States in a range of different time zones. Trying to tie them down via phone or email is a nightmare, so I use tools like Trello to assign tasks and manage workflow.”
CRM tools like Trello, Kanban Flow, Contently and Basecamp add a visual element which allows editors and writers to keep up to date with the progress of different tasks, monitor deadlines, and save notes and drafts on a central database, so that other colleagues can access them if need be.
Elizabeth Tenety writes: “We are currently leveraging Slack, Trello, Google calendar and our CMS scheduling tool, but we’re always open to new options that more seamlessly integrate our team into planning processes. These tools are lifesavers for the modern editorial team.”
Just because there are fewer journalists employed in newsrooms does not mean that there are fewer stories to be covered. Journalist’s often find themselves up against a wall with deadlines, and need to turn to technology to help them cut corners and meet their editor’s demands.
Oliver Griffin said that he turned to popular messaging app Whatsapp to submit a story from central America when under tight time restrictions. Instead of spending time listening to long video or audio excerpts to gather quotes, journalists and editors can turn to tools such as Cogi to cut the exact information they need from large files. Others turn to online transcription services to get the information they need on paper when in a bind.
Elizabeth Tenety writes: “I’ve had a lot of success using Rev.com—it’s not an inexpensive solution for transcriptions, but in a time crunch they do a great job at turning around copy quickly.”
Advances in technology and changes in the way that the public consumes the media have totally changed the media landscape, but with every cloud comes a silver lining. As a perfect example, smartphones have brought extra competition from ‘citizen journalists’ but they have also become an all-in-one swiss army knife for journalists in the field.
More so than ever, journalists and editors need to keep their ear to the ground for new technology or risk becoming redundant.