The Rise of a New Type of Journalism Career (and What It Means for Writers)
Storytelling Communications

The Rise of a New Type of Journalism Career (and What It Means for Writers)

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When I was getting my journalism degree, my classmates and I would play a little mental game called “J-School Bingo” whenever a guest speaker visited one of our classes. Each speaker would first talk about their journalism career, recall a solid, life-changing story or two, then share what they wished they had known when they were first starting out in the industry. Then, no matter their expertise, speakers would pivot their talks to center around the rise of the Internet, the boom of social media, and the changing face of the journalism industry.

Then there was the kicker, that one line we all waited for, the one we all knew was coming: “The journalism industry is rapidly changing, and you will be the ones to adapt and innovate it.”

Struggles of Print Media

It’s no secret the journalism industry has undergone massive changes in the past few years. The nature of the Internet lends itself to free news for public consumption, which does not lead to a sustainable financial model for traditional print publications. Though some publications have implemented paywalls for their online content, others are suffering from declining revenue due to a lack of advertisers buying ad space.

Print media is also competing with declining attention spans, as the quick, snackable way we consume information online and through other social platforms, such as texting, has made it difficult for people to fully direct their attention toward long-form news stories. When the gist of a news story can be conveyed in a 140-character tweet, many people simply don’t feel they have the time to delve into a long article.

With these combined factors, newsrooms have had to make drastic changes to their staffs and responsibility distributions. Newspapers have collapsed completely, merged with other publications, or are still struggling to make ends meet. Local news has been especially affected, with newsrooms being forced to conduct massive layoffs and make due with the limited staff they have.

This kind of overhaul has caused great concern in the industry, as many journalists wonder, “Will the next cut be me?” Those looking to pursue a journalism career are warned off studying a dying industry. And journalists who have dedicated years of their life to the news have found themselves suddenly unemployed.

Challenges Journalists Face

As the print media industry rapidly changes, journalists are also experiencing a shift in what their jobs entail. Since news has become increasingly available on the Internet in real time, an “I want it now” mentality pervades audiences seeking breaking news. In response, journalists and publications alike have had to up their games.

Gone are the days of news staying practically buried until freshly inked newspapers hit the streets or were dropped on front porches. No longer can journalists get by just flipping open their reporter’s notebooks, eagerly scribbling notes, and then returning to the newsroom to crank out a story. Updates are expected as soon as they occur.

Journalists have flocked to Twitter to provide up-to-date details on developing news stories and promote their own work. According to Mediabistro, 59 percent of journalists tweeted in 2013, as compared to 47 percent in 2012. With this instantaneous environment, journalists feel pressured to get their stories out as quickly as possible, through either incremental updates or publishing quick drafts of stories online and expanding on them later.

However, this mentality has caused problems for journalists, who are taking on more responsibilities in a time when newsrooms are rapidly shrinking and resources are diminishing. Another point hammered home to my graduating class was that your journalism career would be dead in the water if you couldn’t dabble in all newsroom tasks.

As newsroom staffs shrink, employees are expected to become jack-of-all-trades journalists who can write, take photographs, tweet, blog, publish stories online, take video, and record audio. This is a lot, especially under the constant, ever-changing, harried threat of the fast-moving journalism field. Priorities can shift at the sound of a police scanner, and journalists must allot their limited time and resources accordingly.

Perceived Direction of Journalism in the U.S.The journalism industry has never been known for 9-to-5 time constraints, but with all the extra responsibilities involved these days, a majority of journalists see the industry as “headed in the wrong direction,” according to The American Journalist in the Digital Age, a recent study by professors Lars Willnat and David H. Weaver of the Indiana University School of Journalism. The study also shows job satisfaction among journalists has dropped from 33.3 percent who said they were “very satisfied” in 2002 to 23.3 percent in 2013.

As the journalism industry changes, those working in it have been forced to drastically change their roles—resulting in a decreasing level of job satisfaction.

The Rise of Brand Journalism

While no one person has had that brilliant “Eureka!” moment to make traditional media viable once again, plenty of alternatives for delivering information to the public have hit the scene. One such alternative is brand journalism.

“The concept of brand journalism is not only shaking up traditional views of brand management, it is also shaking up traditional views of journalism,” writes Larry Light in an article for Ad Age. “Brand journalism is evolving into content creation, using journalistic skills; it is redefining what news is and how it should be communicated on behalf of a brand.”

Many writers may be concerned about leaping into to brand journalism, but they will by no means be blazing the trail. Many former journalists have found a home in the oft-controversial field, enticed by the more direct foray into “journalism” rather than public relations. Through brand journalism, writers do extensive research, conduct interviews, check facts, and use their language skills to craft engaging stories meant to grasp an audience’s attention. Sounds a bit like traditional journalism, doesn’t it?

The difference is brand journalists write on behalf of a brand, company, or organization, using the tools of digital publishing and social media to speak directly to customers. This prompts plenty of ethical debate regarding the institution of journalism and the seemingly biased nature of stories produced by brands. Writers must weigh which side, if any, they fall on, but it can be argued that brand journalism does have its merits.

There are benefits for writers who decide to build brand journalism into their careers. Many writers are freelancers and are able to choose which brands to align themselves with, along with which articles they wish to write and on what topics—a strong positive for the two-thirds of journalists who did not believe they had “almost complete freedom” in selecting their stories in 2013, according to the aforementioned study. Working in brand journalism also offers flexible hours for journalists who are looking for something more stable than the standard on-call nature of journalism.

Brand journalism could actually create accountability within the business world by making brands and businesses more aware of social responsibility and their role as leaders, according to Brandalism Managing Director Tracy Fitzgerald on mUmBRELLA.

“By enabling businesses to produce journalistic-style content, we are placing greater emphasis on how they actually conduct themselves as a business,” Fitzgerald argues.

As the journalism industry shifts to keep up with the changing times, it is unclear what the answer to its problems will be. The only thing certain?Making journalism viable again will not be a quick fix. Luckily, alternative modes of providing news have emerged, giving talented writers a way to tell stories—and the public a way to hear them.

If you are a freelance writer interested in making the leap into the world of brand journalism, join Skyword’s community of freelance writers today.

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