Be an agent of change in the newsroom

by Mathew on October 3, 2009 · 36 comments

So I moderated a panel last night entitled “What’s Next For News,” as part of the kickoff for Wordstock, an annual event put on by the Ryerson University School of Journalism in Toronto. As you can see from the photo (taken by Wayne MacPhail), I played middleman between veteran social-media skeptic Andrew Keen and “media futurist” Clay Shirky. Among other things, we talked about the rise of the Wikipedia model as a source of journalism — something I (and Clay) believe is still underappreciated by many media outlets — as well as the pressure for transparency and the need for jounalists to become brands. If you want to review some of what we talked about, Bill Doskoch collected a tweet-stream about the event, and my former Globe and Mail colleague Joyce Smith did a great live-blog at J-source.ca. Thanks to another former Globe colleague — Ryerson School of Journalism head Paul Knox — and the rest of the faculty, including Jeffrey Dvorkin and Ann Rauhala, for asking me to come and moderate the panel. I like and admire both Andrew and Clay, so it was fun to be up there chatting with them, and in fact I could easily have continued for another hour or so. I hope everyone who attended enjoyed it as much as I did.

Although I heard a lot of positive things about the panel (thanks to everyone who came up and said hello), there were some comments from a few of the journalism students in attendance that Shirky and Keen didn’t provide much in the way of concrete suggestions for those entering the field. And it’s true that the discussion was pretty theoretical for most of the panel — although Keen did say that young journalists should focus on creating their own personal brand as a way to succeed. He also said that he would recommend young people entering the field look elsewhere for work rather than throw their lot in with the mainstream media.

As I told one young journalist at the after party, I wouldn’t agree with Andrew that no one should work in traditional media — although if they choose to work for a startup or a Web-only venture, then more power to them. What I would recommend to any young journalist is that if you get a job with any tradtional media outlet, then be an agent of change in that newsroom. Don’t be content to go along for the ride — try as much as you can to do new things, to experiment, to push the boundaries. Become the person who is known for being adventurous, the one everyone else goes to when they are looking to try something different. As bleak as some parts of the industry look, there has never been a better time for innovation and experimentation.

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