A Journalist's Survival Guide

Journalism’s in trouble.

No, scratch that. Journalists are in trouble. I think journalism’s in trouble, but that’s a bigger debate. I’ve already written about the struggles of journalism here and here.

Journalists, though, are definitely in trouble. Their industry is in upheaval and they’re losing jobs by the tens of thousands. Since I used to be a journalist, and because I sympathize, I thought I’d offer this Journalist’s Survival Guide. Hope it helps:

Step 1: Decide If You Still Want to Be a Journalist

Journalism’s not dead — at least if you ask Jason Falls. It is changing, however. The work environment for journalists will look drastically different in 2-3 years. The world will still needs journalism, but we’ll get it from a new cast of characters, with unfamiliar backgrounds, less conventional educations, more diverse voices, and a broader range of news gathering and reporting methods.

Your skill sets don’t limit you to traditional news reporting. You could be a marketer, a PR agent, a novelist, a blogger, a new world journalist. In fact, many of those roles will even merge together. Are you sold on being just a journalist on the future?

Step 2: Hang Your Shingle and Start Building an Audience

Start a blog if you haven’t already. Don’t blog just on your newspaper’s website. In fact, they’re probably not paying you to blog anyway, or if they are, they’ll stop paying you soon, so I say quit doing it altogether. Set up all your social media outposts. Follow Chris Brogan’s “If I Started Today” post as a guide.

Step 3: Forge Alliances

I predict online newspapers modeled after their print precursors will fail, too. Newspapers have always tried to appeal to the diverse interests of an audience whose only commonality was geography. In the digital era, I don’t need to endure a Weddings section, Lifestyles section and Comics section if all I want is the business news.

Where will people go for their reading material? In part, they’ll aggregate it themselves with RSS feeds and microblogging. But I believe they’ll also gravitate to multi-author networks like Huffington Post and Mashable. These platforms succeed because their rosters feature writers and content built around common interests, rather than common locations.

Since landing a gig at HuffPo ain’t easy, look to emerging content networks. Or create your own. By reaching out to other bloggers, journalists, ex-journalists, and other content creators, you can forge an alliance — a federation of content creators — that could rise from the ashes of 20th century media and attract dollars from 21st century digital marketers.

Step 4: Diversify Your Offerings

Look closely at Step 1. I didn’t say “decide what you want to be.” You can’t be just one thing anymore. You have to hedge your bets. Sure, be a journalist, but be a news reporter AND a columnist/blogger. Do some PR work, too. And freelance writing. And…whatever. You’ll need multiple income streams to survive in a decentralized information economy.

What about objectivity? It still matters, but how you demonstrate objectivity must adapt. Be open and transparent. Disclose potential conflicts of interest. The journalist code of ethics is outdated — you need a code of ethics that includes and expands on the best ethical principles of multiple industries.

Step 5: Get Closer to the Cutting Edge

When I graduated journalism school in 2001, the newspaper I worked for had one computer with an Internet connection. One. And it was dial-up. This was 2001, people — not 1981!

Newsrooms have always been way behind the innovation curve. If you’re gonna survive, you need to get closer to the leading edge. I’m not saying you need to be Scoble, but if Shaq’s using Twitter, you might want to think about it, too. In other words, dabble with new stuff. Hardware, software, websites…play around. It’s not about being first — it’s about being conversant by the time the mainstream gets onboard.

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These are some of my ideas. What about yours? Thoughts?

  • MyCreativeTeam

    Scott, I started in journalism in 1977. Talk about low tech. We were using Royal manual typewriters. But that is a story for another day. You have nailed how journalists of the future need to respond to the changing environment. My son graduates in a year and has always wanted to be an automotive journalist. May not be an automotive industry for him to cover. I'm pointing him to this excellent post.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/garyhunt Gary Hunt

    Excellent, excellent advice! There is no question this is a sad and scary time for people who have devoted their lives to the industry (especially print). But I would also add that it's an exciting time for young people looking to get into the news business in whatever form it will take. Old journalism is dying, but the ironic thing is that the public's hunger for information increases every day. The market will reward those who figure out how to satisfy that hunger.

  • http://www.mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Wow. Double whammy for your son. If they don't hurry up and make those flying cars they promised us, I fear you may be right.

  • http://www.mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Thanks, Gary.

    Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0 is promoting the “I Am the Future of Journalism” Contest. I encourage anyone interested in journalism to check it out.

  • http://my-creativeteam.com/blog Harry Hoover

    Scott, I started in journalism in 1977. Talk about low tech. We were using Royal manual typewriters. But that is a story for another day. You have nailed how journalists of the future need to respond to the changing environment. My son graduates in a year and has always wanted to be an automotive journalist. May not be an automotive industry for him to cover. I’m pointing him to this excellent post.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/garyhunt Gary Hunt

    Excellent, excellent advice! There is no question this is a sad and scary time for people who have devoted their lives to the industry (especially print). But I would also add that it’s an exciting time for young people looking to get into the news business in whatever form it will take. Old journalism is dying, but the ironic thing is that the public’s hunger for information increases every day. The market will reward those who figure out how to satisfy that hunger.

  • http://igreenbaum.com Kurt Greenbaum

    Useful post, Scott. Thanks. I'll challenge your lead, however, when you write the post to elaborate on it. I don't think journalism is in trouble at all. I think it's imperative in this day and age, when there are so many sources of information. Our skills are still valuable and needed in a democracy.

    Plus, “journalists” aren't the only people who practice “journalism.” :-)

  • http://my-creativeteam.com/blog Harry Hoover

    Scott, I started in journalism in 1977. Talk about low tech. We were using Royal manual typewriters. But that is a story for another day. You have nailed how journalists of the future need to respond to the changing environment. My son graduates in a year and has always wanted to be an automotive journalist. May not be an automotive industry for him to cover. I'm pointing him to this excellent post.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/garyhunt Gary Hunt

    Excellent, excellent advice! There is no question this is a sad and scary time for people who have devoted their lives to the industry (especially print). But I would also add that it's an exciting time for young people looking to get into the news business in whatever form it will take. Old journalism is dying, but the ironic thing is that the public's hunger for information increases every day. The market will reward those who figure out how to satisfy that hunger.

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Wow. Double whammy for your son. If they don't hurry up and make those flying cars they promised us, I fear you may be right.

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Thanks, Gary.

    Scott Karp over at Publishing 2.0 is promoting the “I Am the Future of Journalism” Contest. I encourage anyone interested in journalism to check it out.

  • http://igreenbaum.com Kurt Greenbaum

    Useful post, Scott. Thanks. I'll challenge your lead, however, when you write the post to elaborate on it. I don't think journalism is in trouble at all. I think it's imperative in this day and age, when there are so many sources of information. Our skills are still valuable and needed in a democracy.

    Plus, “journalists” aren't the only people who practice “journalism.” :-)

  • http://emediaconsulting.blogspot.com Erin

    I went to J-school, got my degree and worked in publishing for 10 years. I started to figure out a few years ago that online was the way to go so I diversified my skills, taught myself HTML and every social media application I could find.

    Now my journalism buddies are all trying to do what I do: learn the online stuff to make a) make them more employable or b) help them keep their jobs.

    I've gotten to a point where I've offered so much training and advice, that I put together a how-to/tip blog teaching non-technical people how to use social media.

  • http://www.mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Sounds like we're not actually so far apart on this, Kurt.

    I think journalism as an institution — as an industry — is in trouble. I think the practice of journalism is more widespread than ever. Of course, the consequence of this decentralization is an erosion of standards in areas like ethics, objectivity, journalistic integrity and fairness.

    You're right on with your assertion that “journalists” aren't the only practitioners of journalism. Maybe the “old” journalists can play a role as trainers and mentors in the new world of reporting.

  • Pingback: Eric Heinzman » Blog Archive » Diversity as a Career Survival Strategy?

  • http://emediaconsulting.blogspot.com Erin

    I went to J-school, got my degree and worked in publishing for 10 years. I started to figure out a few years ago that online was the way to go so I diversified my skills, taught myself HTML and every social media application I could find.

    Now my journalism buddies are all trying to do what I do: learn the online stuff to make a) make them more employable or b) help them keep their jobs.

    I've gotten to a point where I've offered so much training and advice, that I put together a how-to/tip blog teaching non-technical people how to use social media.

  • http://mediaemerging.com Scott Hepburn

    Sounds like we're not actually so far apart on this, Kurt.

    I think journalism as an institution — as an industry — is in trouble. I think the practice of journalism is more widespread than ever. Of course, the consequence of this decentralization is an erosion of standards in areas like ethics, objectivity, journalistic integrity and fairness.

    You're right on with your assertion that “journalists” aren't the only practitioners of journalism. Maybe the “old” journalists can play a role as trainers and mentors in the new world of reporting.

  • http://www.articlesbase.com/travel-articles/teaching-english-in-taiwan-experience-life-in-taiwan-as-an-english-teacher-1423243.html Teaching English in Taiwan

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