Bridging the gap between ‘writers’ and digital journalists

On PBS Mediashift, Gary Moskowitz looks at what seems to be his student journalists want to write more than they want to use other mediums to tell stories.

Toward the end, he makes this observation,

“Since we, as online journalism instructors, focus on instruments of technology rather than artful prose, there’s an element of confusion among students as to what online journalism really is. Is it journalism, or is it technology? For many, the combination of both is jarring, and bridging the gap between the two is a struggle, especially for aspiring writers.”

For a few hundred years, the medium, aside from personal conversation, that has best accomplishes the exchange of ideas has been the written word. We are taught that beginning in kindergarten. It is the vehicle by which we are taught to improve our critical thinking and comprehension skills, learn about character and other elements of story development.

It’s no wonder, then, that people who desire to share information that either emotionally resonates with readers or calls them to action turn to the written word.

As programmers, photographers, videographers and graphic artists can tell you, stories told using other mediums can tell those powerful stories too.

But instructors, (and in retrospect, I as a web editor) should understand that this often is a dizzying and sometimes induces a feeling of hopelessness.

Working journalists are being asked how to know how to shoot and edit video (even if only in a rudimentary fashion), shoot photos, at least write basic HTML and CSS (if not also javascript and for the data-minded, php), understand the art of graphics to create informational and useful data visualizations, which comes with more basic journalism skills of properly knowing how to analyze data. Plus, you’ll have to know intricacies of a beat.

Without years of background using these mediums, many storytellers are likely going to need more than a few classes are going to provide. That’s problematic if, as Moskowitz describes, there is little time to teach both writing and all these other skills.

It takes time to understand different ways of thinking, such as visual or computational thinking, and to understand which mediums can best tell different aspects of a story.
To do so, they’ll need to become comfortable enough with these tools to understand their possibilities.

Perhaps the way today’s journalistic skills are taught needs to be re-examined. Is there a way multiple medium storytelling can be integrated into all journalism classes? Can an ethics or stats course also include data analyzation with visualization? I’m guessing this is done in some places, and I’d love to know where. Can a discussion about character development and writing profiles also include lessons on audio editing and video editing that same interview?

Additionally, students surely could benefit if journalism departments could regularly team up with other departments, bringing in computer programmers, scientists or other data analysts, graphic artists, to partner on projects.

I don’t think bridging the gap is impossible. I think it requires allowing aspiring writers to shift their focus into being good storytellers and taking all those writing skills they have or want to develop and showing simultaneously how it can be done in other mediums. You have to go beyond treating digital journalism as its own thing.

This entry was posted in Blog, On Journalism, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.