Complex Made Simple

The evolution of digital news

Will the next generation of journalists be left behind?

By Haifa Badi Uz Zaman

It’s clear that media is becoming more web-orientated, but while news organisations are quick to respond to the shift to digital in the industry, university level journalism courses are slow to embrace these changes.

“Universities have to try and stay current with what is going on in the work place. This is not always easy due to the pace of change,” says Dr. Hania Nashef, assistant professor in the department of mass communication at the American University of Sharjah.

She adds that universities are aware of the fast-paced technological changes in the industry, but can only try to incorporate some of them since the structure of academia does not facilitate this.

The integration of the internet is essential to the survival of businesses today, none more so than news publications. An example of this is The Washington Post, which was bought by founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, last month for US$250 million. A fall in print readership and difficulties in adapting to the web version contributed to the sale, and that is something Bezos was quick to address.

“The internet is transforming almost every element of the news business – shortening news cycles, eroding reliable revenue sources and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no newsgathering costs,” explains Bezos.

The arrival of the paper’s new owner highlights an important question: how can educational institutions keep up with the news industry as it becomes more digitally focused?

“Most journalism schools are populated by reporters who haven’t been in a newsroom in the past ten or 15 years,” says Dirck Halstead, former Time Magazine staff photographer. Adding that this is the reason for the lack of response by universities to changes in the field.

Dr. Nashef is of the opinion that courses in digital media should also be offered in universities, because journalism is moving increasingly towards storytelling rather than just reporting.

Journalism programmes should also not have defined boundaries and students should be exposed to online, electronic and print journalism.

Not having ‘defined boundaries’ is something that is being practised in the newsroom, it seems, with media organisations seeking journalists with a varied knowledge base who can multitask, and photojournalists that can provide photos, video and audio, on multiple platforms.

However, being skilled in digital media should never be at the expense of good-quality journalism, with high ethical and journalistic standards still being valued by those in the industry and academia.

“I would keep the basic principles of journalism the same, especially those related to proper fact checking and ethical standards,” says Dr. Nashef.