The reporter of the future: Full Monty or just a wordsmith?

I wonder what David Montgomery is up to these days.

He once loomed large in my life – and those of my many colleagues – as the leader of Local World, with a reputation as a stern, demanding taskmaster.

That image fuelled a very clever spoof Twitter account that painted him as a cross between Mr Burns, Hannibal Lecter and Harry J Waternoose from Monsters Inc.

I like to think it secretly amused him. I hope it did.

But that’s not important right now.

What Monty also did was outline – albeit not in a form intended for public consumption – a very precise vision of how he saw the reporter of the future.

To say this person would be a multitasker was an understatement.

One of the main reasons for that multitasking was the fact that many of his or her colleagues would have lost their jobs.

Meet the specialist segment journalist: someone who is king or queen of their geographic patch or specialist brief. Someone who finds their own stories, writes them, networks at key events as a brand ambassador, persuades others to write for free and then curates that UGC to find cracking tales, is all over social media, and who is au fait with video, photography and other digital storytelling techniques. Oh and can knock up a page or two.

Plus there would be accountability – with targets for UGC development, and overall content creation.

It was exhausting just reading that job description.

Monty’s vision may have been an extreme one, but the idea that the modern journalist needs to master a fairly dazzling array of skills is now at the very heart of media education, recruitment, professional testing, and development training.

And so it should be.

And yet, here’s the thing.

In many newsrooms, a model of working is now being rolled out that could mean reporters will be using those digital bells and whistles rather less often.

In very simplistic terms, as far as I can see, they will be asked to do two things: to find stories and to write them.

The fact that they will be no longer spending time filling shapes for their print products is a major and positive breakthrough, both from a practical point of view and a psychological one.

Confronting journalists with a series of boxes to fill is not the best way to encourage creative thinking and writing.

And I am very much in favour of freeing reporters to report. By that I mean getting compelling, challenging stories – and telling them well.

Ultimately that’s as it should be. Anything that gets in the way of that is at best distracting, and at worse ballache and faff, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no.

Where does the story end and the telling begin? Are pictures part of the story? Is video? Are embedded tweets?

And, now there are new teams of news editors, web editors, and digital subs to look after the enhancement of online stories, will reporters lose the skills and instincts drummed into them in recent years?

All these are questions that editors will be wrestling with.

And they are big ones for journalism educators, too.

Ultimately, perhaps, I’m portraying a false dichotomy.

At weekends, evenings and other times when the chips are down, reporters will undoubtedly still be those digital all-rounders.

And so, colleges and universities can only keep doing what we’re doing now – turning out new generations of multimedia storytellers.

Those journalists need to be ready for the full range of employer expectations.

But let’s hope they never need to do The Full Monty – in any interpretation of that phrase.

 

 

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