More Than Words: Reflections From the API-Poynter Digital Storytelling Summit

About a month ago, I saw the following tweet:

As a college student who came to Washington DC for the semester specifically to study journalism, how could I not apply for an opportunity such as this?! Not only was this an amazing opportunity to meet fellow journalism students and hear from experts in the field, but it proved to be a great source of inspiration, reassurance and a reminder of what I love about journalism. Here are a few takeaways:

Tech is king, but so is content: It is nearly impossible to list all of the apps, websites, technology, software and resources mentioned throughout the sessions. The job description of “reporter” seems to have grown to “coder,” “photographer,” “graphic designer,” “entrepreneur,” “social media guru” and, well, you get the point. I don’t know about you, but that definitely overwhelms me. However, after unloading all this information on us, the speakers frequently clarified that it’s not about becoming a professional web developer or tech expert; we learn these things to understand the process behind what we do and add to the way we deliver the content–it’s still about the content. The digital world has provided journalists with so many different tools to enrich the way we tell stories, but notice that even though this summit was about the digital age, it was also about storytelling which is at the heart of journalism.

It will always be about people: Similar to the way stories continue to drive journalism, at the core, journalism is about providing information to the public. The news industry is a service just as much as it is a business. It’s no secret that news organizations are faced with big issues surrounding what works best to make news profitable. Despite this business model crisis in journalism, the focus continues to be about how to best deliver the content to provide the public with both the information they want and need. It’s also about how to best engage with the audience, not just to get views but to provide a service. Journalism is both about having an audience to sustain the industry and being a source of information that the public can depend on. It’s really a symbiotic relationship.

One of the sessions we had on interviewing really highlighted treating people (especially sources) as more than just a means to an end. Baltimore Sun crime reporter, Justin George, talked about interviewing and the main tips he stressed revolved around empathy and treating each person like… a person. It always has and always will be about not losing sight of why we do what we do and what this whole industry exists for. Granted, there are journalists who cut corners and see sources as nothing more than a good quote that will make their article better. However, the interesting fact of the matter is, the best journalists and most profitable news organizations are the ones who put people first. When service is forsaken for profit, the business side almost always ends up suffering, too.

Problems + Journalists = Great discussions & innovation: Like most industries, journalists are challenged with keeping up with the fast pace of the digital age. Despite these challenges, many of the speakers throughout the session referred to this time as the “golden age of journalism.” Instead of all these recent changes in technology and society being a barrier to the industry, it is an opportunity for growth. In fact, there was a whole session led by OpenReporter CEO, Misha Vinokur, talking specifically about how to approach news like a startup. The current state of the news industry provides so much room for innovation. Journalists are already trained to examine both sides of a story or issue. So, when journalists face challenges within their own industry, they aren’t hesitant to critically examine what needs to be changed.

Over lunch, during the conference, I had a really great discussion with a few other students attending the event. We were talking about the challenges of integrating social media with journalism. In the midst of our discussion, we stopped and kind of laughed about how we were, in a sense, critiquing the very industry we were here to learn about. It’s all part of being a journalist–being so obsessed with what you do that you are willing to think deeply about what’s working and what can be improved. I really enjoyed that discussion and felt like I grew so much from not being afraid to think and talk about issues that need to be addressed in the industry that I love so much.

My journey to journalism is not over: Ever since I came to DC back in January, I’ve wrestled a lot with my “career path choice” as I was reminded over and over again how much I don’t know and can’t do. It was (and continues to be) a humbling experience. Sometimes those moments are necessary. Life is all about learning new things; that’s what makes it exciting. However, honestly, I was feeling discouraged. I knew I wanted to be a journalist (A LOT), but I doubted whether I actually have what it takes to be a journalist. Then, this opportunity came along and while it showed me that I have even more to learn and improve on, it also reminded me why I chose to pursue this career in the first place. This weekend, I realized that the reason why I want to be a journalist is not because it comes easily to me. It’s not because I have fully developed all the skills I need to succeed in this field. I want to be a journalist because I love the industry. Simply put, I love journalism.

While I tried my best, this post does not do the sessions justice. It’s funny because that was kind of the whole point of the summit. There are some things that words alone can’t fully capture. We still need those words and people who write skillfully, but now we have all these tools at are disposal that can help us improve the way we capture and share stories.

If you’re interested, all the sessions were recorded and will be available online soon. I highly recommend checking it out. When the sessions are uploaded, I’ll put a link here!

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2 responses to “More Than Words: Reflections From the API-Poynter Digital Storytelling Summit

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