As the media landscape changes, some reporters are eagerly jumping into new mediums like blogs, Twitter and even Facebook to increase their reach.
Reporters are opening virtual doors on their process; showing their viewers how the news is made and why certain things end up on the front page.
In this series I wanted to focus on people who report daily – in what some call the “main stream media” – each of these writers have mastered the art of capturing what happened today for an audience tomorrow. And each has refined reporting parts of the story live online, with updates as-it-happens today.
I asked blogging journalists three questions about their craft and the evolution of reporting as the industry of news changes.
The first to report back is Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star’s Ottawa bureau.
Delacourt returned to blogging after a one year hiatus at Massey College as a journalism fellow – her Toronto Star hosted blog is one of the most re-tweeted in Ottawa political circles.
This is part one of an ongoing series.
Interview with Susan Delacourt
Q: When and why did you start blogging?
The Star had a “political notebook” blog going back several years (2005,maybe?), when I was still bureau chief. But like many of those group efforts, it suffered from lack of interest — on the part of contributors and readers.
Early in 2008, as we were thinking about election coverage, there was talk of having our election blog be done out of Toronto, since the assumption was that none of us would have time here. Since I’d stepped down as bureau chief, and had a bit more time on
my hands, I volunteered to do it, whenever an election came along.
Then we thought, what the heck, why wait for an election? I started blogging around the time of the 2008 budget (February, I believe.) I took a break while I did a Canadian Journalism Fellowship at U of T from Sept/08 to May/09. I missed it while I was away! Our national editor, Tim Harper, was kind of surprised that I wanted the blog back when I returned to work. But I’ve grown very attached to the medium and it’s now a primary part of my job. I also continue to blog on weekends and days off too, which may mean that I’m insane.
Q: Are you are in touch with more readers and consumers of news because of social media; how does blogging or participating in social media change your reporting or refine your writing?
This is a huge question. Writing online, especially blogging, can be liberating. No deadlines. No space concerns. You can write one line or you can write a thesis. You don’t have to worry about putting all that annoying background in the story; you can just have a click-through link to the story so far. I love that.
You do have to put more of yourself in your reporting; that’s hard for folks like me, trained to write with some distance. At U of T, I took a fiction-writing course. We all had to write a short story to be read by the class; what all the students observed about mine is that it revealed nothing about the narrator. Old habits are hard to break.
I also think that Twitter is going to be a very important tool for us; it’s like a journalist’s own, personal wire service. And it gives us instant feedback on our stories, blogs. I’ve gone from Twitter skeptic to a huge Twitter fan in the past few months.
I am very fond of the interactive nature of these new tools, though I know I’m probably too old-fashioned in my refusal to banter back and forth in the comments sections under our stories online. If anyone’s interested, it’s because I learned somewhere there in journalism along the way that readers have the right to the last word.
I do warn people who are new to blogging that they’re going to have to develop a thicker skin with regard to comments. Some of the things that people have written to me are vicious, nasty, personal and libellous. I was initially quite wounded by each one; now I don’t care so much (unless they go after family, in which case I get a bit medieval.) But I’m not sure it’s a good thing for a journalist to develop a thick skin. I think we do our jobs better when we’re sensitive to criticism, but these vicious cranks have made me a little harder-hearted.
Q: As the business of gathering news changes and the people who report daily are adapting and learning new tools/skills to thrive – will distinctions remain between online, print, television and broadcast mediums?
Well, to some extent, there will be distinctions still in how the news is delivered, but anyone aspiring to be a working journalist will no longer be able to survive in one medium, ie — “I’m a print person.” My friend Susan Harada, a journalism professor at Carleton, has been saying for a couple of years now that young, would-be journos are going to have to be schooled in all the skills.
And at The Star, we’ve moved quite boldly into erasing the distinctions.
Our last union contract, negotiated in 2008, eliminated separate categories for editorial employees — you are no longer hired or classified as photographer, editor, reporter, etc.
We’re all “journalists.”
Now, this is creating interesting little challenges in our day-to-day work on the Hill. A couple of weeks ago, armed with my little video camera, I tried to get into a photo op with the Prime Minister and I was told it was “photographers only.” But the Star doesn’t make that distinction anymore and I doubt that politicians are going to be able to continue that practice much longer. (Frankly, they should give it up – when they say “cameras only,” what they’re really saying is that they don’t want any questions, since the politicos usually say something at photo ops. And make no mistake, photographers are soon going to be told to write up or broadcast stories too, if they aren’t already, in this converging media universe.)