I had the privilege of participating with an impressive group of journalists in a 2 1/2-hour panel discussion on the future of our professions at the fall meeting of the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC) Friday afternoon in Chicago. As might be expected, the potential and challenges of digital communications consumed the bulk of our discussion.
Moderated by former Minneapolis Tribune editor Tim McGuire, other panel members were Houston Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen, Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) president emeritus Barbara Cochran, Cedar Rapids Gazette and Gazette online editor Steve Buttry and former Washington Post executive and GrowthSpur.com CEO Mark Potts. ACEJMC’s primary focus appears to be on journalism/media, not PR, but many aspects of the discussion are applicable to public relations.
All panel members were bullish about the future of digital communications even though growth of social media is having severe consequences for traditional newspapers, radio and television. Steve Buttry said there is too much pessimism about the future of journalism, and promised that “what’s coming is something to get excited about.” Others agreed that many news organizations are catching up with new media realities. Still, job prospects remain bleak for traditional journalists. Jobs will be more plentiful in digital-related offshoots from traditional media outlets. Panel members described the expanding roles of reporters. Rather than simply writing about a news event, many reporters are now engaged in every aspect of gathering, taping and presenting news online, in print and on air.
“Twitter has the potential of being the most powerful social media ever,” Buttry said. While Mark Potts and I questioned the sustainability of Twitter’s current business model, Steve said it’s not a problem. “The real question is how do we use Twitter to help our businesses make money,” he said. I agree with Potts that the next iteration of Twitter may have a more sustainable business model.
Ethics was the second most discussed topic by the panel, followed by universal agreement on the importance of writing, data analysis and research skills. I urged educators to push writing skills more in undergraduate studies, noting that nearly 40% of prospective job candidates taking our agency’s writing test score C or below. For hiring purposes, we focus on minimum scores of B+. I also mentioned feedback from current interns who said they would have appreciated a greater focus in college on key research tools being used in agencies today.
For more insights from the ACEJMC discussion and useful tools for academics, check out Steve Buttry’s blog. If you’re in J-school, you should read Ryan Murphy’s blog post on how to get the most out of studying journalism. Ryan is digital editor at the Radio-Television News Directors Association.