Editor-in-chief of Reuters News David Schlesinger told a Hong Kong audience Oct 15 that journalism today is less about delivering straight facts than providing actionable information.
“That’s why this is the age of the publisher,” he said. “Journalists who understand this will survive. Those who don’t will be irrelevant.”
Schlesinger was speaking as part of a regular series sponsored by the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at Hong Kong University.
When readers/viewers/listeners can easily snag online the basic facts to any event, it is important for professional journalists to provide insight and interpretation. Or, to use a term I hammered into my J students, context.
This kind of journalism has three pillars, Schlesinger said: journalistic excellence, presentation and utility to the client.
Schlesinger’s remarks to the JMSC crowd reinforces the idea that readers/viewers/listeners are now seen as “clients” and “users.” Professional journalism is no longer about sending information to a passive audience.
Journalists must continue to report breaking news, Schlesinger said, but that alone will not make it. Journalists, he added, need to produce stories that have an impact and address an audience’s interests and habits. Obviously, he said, this will be more difficult for a wire service such as Reuters.
For individual journalists, however, it offers an opportunity. Schlesinger said modern journalists need to think of themselves as individual brands.
“You’re nothing without your own brand. You have to establish yourself, what you stand for, your expertise.”
Besides knowing how to use social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, modern journalists need to be serious about knowing a subject inside out.
Knowing a second language doesn’t hurt either.
“Take some risks as well. It’s the new angles and the new stories that will help distinguish you.”
Again, this is something I have been arguing for some time. Except the risk in U.S. journalism is often making a connection between local and global events.
The local reporter who can see the global links in a local event or a local connection to an international story will provide more than just information to his/her local audience. Context and connections — or as Schlesinger said, “utility to the client” — will help the reader/listener/viewer better understand why a story is important.
Publishers and station owners who chant “Local! Local! Local!” as if that alone will save cash-strapped media organizations fail to see that while news consumers want news about their local areas, they also want context. And maybe more Americans will start paying attention to international news — other than wars, riots and disasters — if they see there is a link to their local community.
And the links exist. It just takes a journalist willing to “take risks” and an editor with some smarts.
Here is the full Schlesinger presentation:
UPDATE: Many thanks to Matt Driskill in Hong Kong for his link to Schlesinger’s presentation to the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club.