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A degree in journalism or computer science?


The first thing that used to come to mind when I thought of the word “reporter” was a pen- the image of a frantic journalist jotting down notes at the scene of a story.

Those days are long gone.

With today’s multimedia equipment, a reporter hardly has a free hand to use a pen, let alone a clunky notebook. And why should they when a smart phone can send those notes directly to your email account in perfectly legible Times New Roman?

However, the changing roles have injected a thick tension into our industry, and an expectation that yesterday’s journalist is struggling to keep up with. No one seems to understand this more than Ian Shapira of the Washington Post in his recent blog titled “Print guy learns video — how’s he doing?”

Ian’s been working at the Post for 10 years and is now getting his master’s degree in interactive journalism at American University. In the blog, he talks about how he feels like he’s getting a degree in computer science, rather than journalism. I can understand his embarassment when fumbling with the tripod in front of a subject, but as a journalist with a TV background, I have little sympathy.

I watched what I think is Ian’s first video, and found the quality laughable. I thought to myself, how can he think that shot was framed right? These audio levels are awful. This piece is almost 4 minutes long for no reason!

After putting my cynicism aside, I had to put myself in Ian’s shoes. In print, you have the freedom to recreate scenes from the past using words. In TV, video dictates the story you tell. When doing a story for the web, there is usually not a harsh time limit because there’s no 30 minute newscast it needs to fit within. With a new medium, comes new standards. I wanted to salute Ian for taking on the challenge and trying to learn.

But at the end of the blog he asks a few questions such as: Does it even make sense for writers like me to learn how to shoot and edit video? For journalists to become writers? Should we invest in more specialists or become a more versatile staff?

A friend of mine posted Ian’s blog with the caption: “Why reporters should be reporters and photograhers should be photographers.” While I would love to believe we all will have the luxury to have those separated job descriptions, that’s hardly realistic, leaving me in complete disagreement with her caption. I say this as I browse the few job postings there are, all looking for multimedia journalits who can shoot, write, edit and then blog about it after.

What I think the industry is doing wrong is thrusting these reporters into a new job title without the proper training. You can’t give a print reporter a camera and tell them to go shoot something. You’ll either end up with blue footage or a silent movie. Rather than spending money on specialists, spend money on developing the skills of the staff you already have.

Now whether Ian is paying for his computer science/journalism degree or the Post is, I’m not sure. But if we had more reporters like him, willing to mess up a couple times in the name of trying something new – perhaps the journalism world would be in a lot better shape.