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The Future of Environmental Journalism:
Who, What, When, Where, How?

2008-2009 Program
Panel Discussion
February 27, 2009

Agenda | Q&A

On February 27, 2009, Metcalf Institute convened a panel of veteran journalists, journalism academics, and innovators to discuss the future of journalism. This panel was part of the mid-fellowship retreat for the Diversity Fellowships in Environmental Reporting, and was a chance for Metcalf Fellows to share ideas and concerns with each other and the panelists. What follows is a summary of some of the major discussion points.

The panelists began by describing their own professional evolution. They agreed that while basic skills will continue to be critical, multimedia expertise is fast becoming a requirement for success in journalism.

Q: Assuming that journalism will be revived (at least partially) when the economy is revived, how can we set ourselves apart from other environmental journalists in terms of craft, etc?

STRUCK: Doug Struck said that there is a need for journalists to hone a few different skills. "Do journalism, do writing, do reporting, do editing - a notch you need to put in your belt, it's a valuable skill to have."

But also, he said, journalists would be wise to develop an expertise. "Hone your credentials in a particular area ... people are going to be reading what they are interested in and what they know about. To have a specialty and to become more and more of an expert in it will serve you very very well."

BENTON: Joshua Benton suggested journalists be aggressive about establishing a "brand" for themselves online. First step? "Buy your name domain," he said, and start your own blog.

"Use that as the branding platform," he said. And turn the tables on the traditional model in which journalists need to find an outlet to publish their writing. "I think there is great value in 'controlling the means of production,'" he said.

Q: How are ethnic news media organizations faring during these difficult times for journalism?

HERRON: Online news outlets representing traditional newspapers have been struggling to turn a profit. But some markets have the potential to do well. "Ethnic press is also a niche which may have better advertising potential," Frank Herron said, because advertisers see the readers as a ready-made target audience and they tend to be loyal to news sources.

Q: How much of a role will 'social media' (using Facebook, twitter, blogging) play in the future of journalism? It seems they've all hit the scene so quickly, and our "traditional" news sites are scrambling to use these tools - but at what cost? Are they really the means to our future in the field?

CASE: David Case said blogs have taken off not just as aggregating sites, but in a way that helps readers to think. In the past few years, he said, "I don't think I've written a story ... that didn't have a point of view. Our role is to help people know what to think about things, too."

STRUCK: The "godlike" tone of the internet is on its way out. And once it's finally dismissed, "what will set you apart is the ability to be professional; that does include an air of objectivity."

BENTON: Aggregating is an important service; not unlike newspapers, which pick and choose which stories to publish, aggregating sites pick and choose which stories to publish. "I think the Web is the closest thing that the media can come to a pure meritocracy."

And he is a big fan of Twitter and the possibilities it holds for bringing like-minded people together.

HERRON: Blogs offer a chance to reintroduce some things that have been missing from traditional news outlets: humor, context and background.

The group also discussed a variety of innovative business models that may become the dominant means of funding journalism, including the non-profit model. Regardless, David Case argued, there will be an ever increasing need for people who can recognize a good environmental story and know how to write it. Case affirmed that "the environment will be the story of the century."

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April 27, 2009