Success in digital media is not uniquely available to a new breed of prophets, mystics, and geniuses. Digital success is available to all of us, if we adapt smartly – and urgently and enthusiastically — to what readers want and need in a new information environment.
Let’s just stipulate
For those of you who intend to be journalists, you must learn how to report well – fairly, honestly, accurately, digging beneath the surface for the real story, holding government and powerful interests of all types accountable to citizens, consumers, workers, the vast majority of people.
You need to know how to write, how to string words together so that your ideas and message are clear – and, at best, so that your use of language engages, enthralls, excites those who read you.
You need to be curious about the world around you, that you’re more intrigued by what you don’t know than impressed by what you know, and that you have an appetite to gain real insights wherever you can.
You need to learn contemporary skills of video, audio, basic coding, data collection and analysis, how to make your own charts. These are now tools of the profession.
You must master new forms of storytelling that have emerged — that draw upon data visualisation and video and interactive graphics and links.
You need to be comfortable with the contemporary ways people receive and process information –you will need to be expert in social media, how to use it as a reporting tool and how to use it to promote your stories.
The web is a different medium, which calls for an approach that is different from newspapers. And, I’d add, delivering information on mobile devices may demand an approach that is different from the way we’ve done things on the desktop computer.
We need entrepreneurs
Journalists will have to be entrepreneurs. You will be creating entirely new companies. Or you will be working in entrepreneurial ventures that will constantly expect inspired and innovative ideas. You will have to become an entrepreneur within larger organisations, too – because they need to compete and because you will be asked to transform organisations that have stood strong for decades but now worry endlessly about making it through tomorrow. You will need to understand your own readership, to help build it, to market your own work.
The importance of a good idea
Even more important than the fancy tools you use will be the thinking you do.
You cannot deliver a good story without a good idea for one – and good ideas about how to construct that story. You cannot have a successful new product if it is not rooted in a smart idea.
Metrics (the discipline of measuring how well we’re performing) can tell you how you did. But they will not tell you what to work on. To do that, you will need imagination, creativity, resourcefulness, insight. Because good ideas will matter above all.
This is an edited version of a speech entitled “Media, journalism, and the future of news in the Digital Age” delivered this week at Florida International University as part of the Hearst Distinguished Lecture Series. The full speech is available here.