Journalists Skills Typewriter

DETROIT – For three days on August 10-13, 2011, Asian American journalists attended the 22nd annual convention of the Asian American Journalist Association (AAJA) in this city to update themselves on the developments in the industry which is also taking a beating due to the economic meltdown. But, it seems, many of the journalist will be re-tooling themselves with new skills to be able to survive.

Although some industry leaders are still trying to absorb the full impact of the Internet, they seem to agree that there is need for a new sustainable business model in the cyberspace era.

Multi-platform reporter Victoria Lim of Bright House Sports Network based in Tampa, Florida told workshop participants that when her former employer was encouraging her fellow reporters to learn skills in still photography and videography, some heeded the advice and are still on the job. But those who did not heed the advice had to go.

“Since I want to be read in print, to be watched on TV and to be surfed online, I just loved the transition,” said Ms. Lim, a former senior consumer reporter for WFLA-TV, the Tampa Tribune and tbo.com. Nicknamed “Queen of Convergence,” Ms. Lim is an award-winning, pioneering multimedia reporter.

When this columnist asked her if her multi-tasking effort is being rewarded with additional paycheck, she demurred, saying, “I’ll have to ask my boss about it.”

Another workshop (Visual Storytelling III) speaker, Kathy Kieliszewki, deputy director of photo and video of the Detroit Free Press, said, “everybody is doing everything now. Photographers are getting stories. Reporters are becoming photographers. Even our editor was taking photos on assignments when we have a gap. And a gap filler, who becomes an expert in that gap will always get the lead.

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It is hard to be on top of the game during newsroom transitioning and hopefully, everybody will do it well. Many embraced it (transitioning) as we move forward with new union shop, pay scale, etc.”

On the topic of “citizen journalists” contributing photos to newspapers, Ms. Kieliszewki said that on rare occasion if someone pitches in a photo, like a flipping boat in the Detroit River that was compelling to use, she would still be paid as a freelancer for the photo.”

But Torey Malatia, president and CEO of the Chicago Public Media, one of the presenters in the workshop on “The Future of Journalism: Is Journalism a Sustainable Business Model?,” told me that there is really no paycheck for citizen journalists. But publication of their contribution is an incentive enough, and  they are thanked for it. “We show our respect to the contributors by calling them and suggesting to them if they can take the shots differently. And we usually verify the source before we publish them.”

Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of The Washington Post, told me that while citizen journalism is being encouraged so people can submit videos, photos and comments, there is no pay waiting for these contributors.

Brauchli said, “I don’t know of any model right now.”

But he said the Post is watching other newspapers, like The New York Times, which is charging for its content.

“Right now, we are the largest free news outlet in America and we want people reading our contents, and our traffic is the greatest. We certainly benefit from Facebook and other social media.”

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Another panelist, Janet Mason, president and general manger of WZZM 13 based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said for media to sustain the interest of their readers or listeners they have to approach things differently, citing ABC’s segment by Diane Sawyer, “Made in America.” It shows a homeowner taking stuff out in his front yard if they are not made in America. It turned out that every stuff was brought out of the house.

To gain credibility, general managers doing commentary in their TV programs should discuss only topics of which they are experts. And citizen-journalism reports with video will be an interesting feature of some newscast because these bring new perspective to the listeners and readers not available to the media staff, she said.

“If you give audience good local content and there is no competition, readers will be willing to pay. But if you are just regurgitating the news from the competition, then, there is no money waiting for such outlet,” Ms. Mason added.