I’ve heard it for years from mid-career journalists, though not so much from the j-school students I work with today: “How am I supposed to keep up with all this new stuff?”
That was when now-commonplace concepts such as blogging, social media and SEO were bewilderingly new to the established news media. Some young whippersnapper could slide into a newsroom for an internship and find himself with a full-time gig as social media editor upon graduation, because the rest of the newsroom was unfamiliar with the benefits of “all this new stuff.”
Since then, “the shock of the new” — a phrase used in the early 1980s about the flurry of new visual arts styles that fell upon the art world — has become a daily, weekly and monthly norm for anyone working in media. We now have to embrace social media that didn’t exist just a few years ago — like Pinterest and Instagram — and there are new (often easy) ways to tell stories like Storify or ThingLink.
I’ve always considered myself an early adopter, and I claim that keeping up with everything coming at us from the new media horizon is part of my job description. But keeping up sometimes feels like a full-time job by itself.
A few months ago I started telling journalists about Vine, a new mobile app from Twitter (which finally released an Android versions months after the popular iPhone app launched). At its simplest, it’s like a video version of Twitter — but instead of 140 characters, you have six seconds of video to share, and the video replays in an endless loop. The end result isn’t as simple as a really short video clip; the most creative uses of Vine rely on stop-motion animation, and it’s very cool. Within weeks, some smart TV news stations were already inviting viewers to share their Vine videos, and it helped with audience engagement.
But that was then. Now Instagram, the super-popular photo sharing app, has launched Instagram video, which allows users to share 15 seconds of video. It’s already overtaking Vine in popularity, even though it’s only available for iPhones and phones with the most recent Android operating systems (not mine, unfortunately).
Such is the dog-eat-dog cycle of new media development. The bright shiny new thing today could be the rusty and forgotten old thing tomorrow. Who really still uses MySpace today? In five years, will Facebook still be as dominant as it is today? Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on it.
What does this all mean for the typical journalist? It means we have to try to stay current as much as our lives and jobs allow. It’s not realistic to think we can all stay on top of every new social and digital media gewgaw that pops onto the radar. But I urge newsroom managers to have someone assigned to spend at least some time scouring the Web for the latest and greatest tools for journalists to use (and those to avoid).
And journalists can help their own careers by at least checking in on (or subscribing to RSS feeds or emails from) a couple of key websites that cover the digital media space: Mashable and ReadWriteWeb. There are lots of other sites worth keeping tabs on, but if you find the time to just scan these two daily, you won’t miss a lot.
Just consider it part of your job description to keep up and not get overwhelmed by the shock of the new.
Gil Asakawa is chairman of the SPJ Digital Media Committee and diversity chairman of the Colorado Pro chapter. He is a journalist, author, public speaker and online geek. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or interact on Twitter:
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