Today could be the best or worst time to be a journalist. For one who sees opportunities in challenges, it could be a time to shine. A journalist cannot afford to do things the conventional way in the digital era, which means they have to acquire new skills to remain relevant.
A print journalist needs to pick on skills to report faster by filing for an online platform as a story breaks then embark on doing day-two journalism for the newspaper by taking the story forward beyond what social media carries, by the second or minute.
Ronnie Ntambi, a broadcast journalist and communication consultant, explains that the advent of social media disrupted traditional media the way we knew it 10 years ago.
“Then, we had to first return to the newsroom, prepare the story before broadcasting or publishing it. Today the space has been transformed, news is broadcast as it breaks. Today’s journalist must be more versatile,” he argues.
Communications and visibility consultant, Denis Jjuuko, says digital disruption does not change how journalists do their work.
“The only difference is that today’s journalists must be able to do analysis instead of breaking news as that is information that circulates widely. Verification is key as well so that they aren’t taken in by rumours even when the rumour is trending,” Jjuuko explains.
According to Ntambi, any forward thinking journalist ought to have a career vision, for example where they envision to be in next three, five and 10 years.
“Keep an eye on technology. It is what is driving the future. As a journalist don’t been left behind stuck in the old century,” Ntambi says.
He adds that: “There are new skills one can get depending on their medium. If you work on TV, how about integrating apps such as Skype so you can interview people wherever they are.
“If you are on radio, learn podcasting and designing apps for digital journalists. The key skills for journalists though are still the same.”
Ntambi says: “Online media has dislodged the walls that previously existed between media outlets. Press, Radio, Television have all been flattened. They are now one. Like the outlets, journalists must flatten and deliver on all. You need to skill up. Write well for a reader, take eye catching still and running images and have an ear for good audio.”
Credibility is important and Ntambi hinges an argument on the fact that media casts a journalist in the spotlight.
“However loyal you are to your media outlet, as a journalist, build a personal digital brand. This comes with followers. Your personal brand and its following gives you leverage when you show up in the boardroom to negotiate your next contract,” he adds.
Looking beyond journalism, Ntambi says the advancement of technology on the digital front has affected careers across the board, and adds that some will actually become extinct, including journalism.
Jjuuko particularly cites artificial intelligence, where agencies such as AP (Associated Press) are already using narrative science to break stories at speeds no humans can do.
“For example, sports journalism, the stats you see no human can do them or at the speed of artificial intelligence. Same with most breaking news... so a journalist who doesn’t improve will be out of a job soon,” Jjuuko, a former journalist, observes.
Overall, a journalist irrespective of their current profile, needs to diversify and beef up on their skill set so that for an event, they can ably report for multiple platforms.