Journalists of the future

Photo by Frank_BB on Flickr
Photo by Frank_BB on Flickr

“She really wants to be a food editor — but it’s hard to tell her that print is dead.”

That was the final line of an email message I received today from a longtime friend. He was asking my advice on how to counsel a female acquaintance, younger than both of us, who harbours a dream of becoming a journalist.

First, I don’t believe print is dead. Print journalism, as we’ve known it over the past half century, is morphing. It is moving from a position of supremacy and influence to a much more egalitarian position with respect to other journalistic platforms. Some futurists have speculated that “ink-on-dead-trees” newspapers may soon be the preserve of a small but affluent minority; I prefer to think its future applications will be more classless than that.

If we apply the principle of “platform agnosticism,” in which I’ve been immersed over the past week, we begin by asking what news consumers will demand from gastronomic information and journalism in the years to come. Food, of course, is a sensual experience. It wants to be tasted, touched, smelled and savoured. What journalistic platforms deliver those best? Still photography, certainly. Perhaps also text. Audio, if a great chef or restaurateur is being interviewed. Illustration or video, if the task is to communicate food preparation techniques. Maps and mobile applications, if the story concerns the movement of a coffee bean from plant to percolator — or the location of the nearest Starbucks. The new journalism will permit the story to drive the delivery platform and allow users to participate in the story itself, not have the delivery platform dictate the terms of the story — and some monochromatic treatment of it — to the user.

My advice to my friend: Suggest to his acquaintance, who already has a degree in food sciences, that she broaden her communication skills in order to be able to tell food-related stories in as many ways and through as many media as possible. Whether she eventually seeks work with an established news organization or as a freelancer, she’ll need as many tools in her toolbelt as she can fit in there alongside all those spatulas and spices.

Coincidentally, a blog post earlier this week by British multimedia journalist Adam Westbrook titled “Introducing: the journalist of the future,” heavily retweeted in the Twitterverse, speaks eloquently to the precept that more journalists will soon be information entrepreneurs rather than desk-chained drones of large corporations. The next generation of journalists, Westbrook posits, will be entrepreneurial, adaptable, multitalented, courageous and collaborative individuals whose great thrill will be to tell stories and tell them well, with all the tools at their disposal.

They may not all be wearing gear-filled backpacks, but they’ll certainly be required to be proficient at delivering information in a variety of ways. In that fact lies a lot of food for thought as I contemplate the arrival of a new class of aspiring journalists at my office door within about a month.

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