We’ve all seen declarations that print and other traditional media are "dead," but there’s another more interesting trend – the evolution of traditional journalists as they adapt to the new media world.
For decades now, reporters have been filing stories electronically. My brother covered the Exxon Valdez spill for the Anchorage Daily News in 1989 using a Radio Shack TRS-80 (aka "Trash 80") handheld computer.
But the trend of the one-man electronic media show is a newer phenomenon. The convergence in electronic devices, and the increasing financial pressures faced by all traditional media outlets, have resulted in a parallel convergence of skills and responsibilities for the journalist. A quick look at Monster.com reveals job descriptions for reporters that include things like "daily responsibilities include, but are not limited to, reporting, shooting, non-linear editing, writing and producing." This sounds more like the description of the responsibilities of an entire news organization, not a sole reporter.
Much has been written about the general trend toward mobility, and the role played by economic necessity, device convergence, and the need for mobility in a competitive world. Greg Olson, of Eastwick client Coghead, coined the term Going Bedouin in an analysis of this trend.
Journalists, too, are seeing the advantages, both economic and competitive, of adapting the tools of the mobile workplace. Many of them have "Gone Bedouin" as they follow breaking news around the country and around the globe.
Recently, Eastwick chatted about "backpack journalism" with Haven Daley, video journalist with Associated Press (AP) TV. Daley travels the U.S., reporting on breaking news, writing, producing, editing and transmitting finished reports for a global audience. In fact, at the recent CES show, Daley produced 20 stories and commented that lately, he's more likely to be found "working out of a Starbucks" than an AP office. So-called backpack journalists -- including many converted "old-school” journalists -- were a common sight not only at CES but at DEMO, toting digital cameras and audio recorders to capture interviews and b-roll content.
Arguably, the distinction between a journalist and a blogger may soon disappear. Bloggers posted some of the earliest and most moving accounts of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and during the London subway bombings, passengers were feeding images to the press from their camera phones.
So where will this all lead? Clearly, this trend will continue as the economic and competitive pressures that spurred it remain. Does the role of backpack journalist automatically mean a decline in editorial quality, as the additional responsibilities of camera operator, producer, and webmaster leave less time for research, editing, and even reflection on the nuances of a story? Are there benefits (other than economic) such as faster filing, more timely reporting, a more coherent finished piece? As Paul Harvey says, “stand by – for news!”