Poynter eVolves

This article appeared in the April 2009 isssue of the Maddux Business Report.

By Kim Cartlidge

PRINT MEDIA JOURNALISTS TRADED their Remingtons and red pens for laptops and wireless cards a digital generation ago. Now, they may be expected to blog, podcast, post video, twitter – or create new forms of their own.

St. Petersburg’s Poynter Institute, the nationally-renowned school for professional journalists and educators, is in on the digital game. It’s expanded its curriculum to train (or overhaul) journalists for the digital media age. The institute’s traditional courses in ethics, leadership and community journalism are taught alongside seminars such as “The Backpack Journalist” and webinars on Twitter, Flash and the Semantic Web.

Will the new skill sets lead to new jobs in the field? “Anybody who tells you they know what the new economic model will be is delusional,” says Roy Peter Clark, Poynter vice president. “There’s a perfect storm of influences which have hurt the newspaper industry profoundly.”

With print readership already tanking, the loss of advertising revenue and the recession are landing a knock-out punch to print media outlets. “Every dollar being lost in print is being replaced by a dime on a website,” says Clark.Yet Clark, an esteemed writing coach who recently taught his first blogging seminar, is confident the industry will adapt. “I think you’ll see a thousand new ideas on how to cut costs and be more efficient, create new audiences and collaborate with other institutions.”

Both young and seasoned journalists are cross-training for success. “There’s a whole new set of adaptive skills journalists who want to keep their jobs need to learn,” says Clark. “Everyone will have to talk and think collaboratively across disciplines.”

Poynter’s newest onsite seminars include “Best Practices in Multimedia Journalism” and “The Backpack Journalist” for reporters who not only write, but shoot and edit their stories for broadcast and online outlets. A backpack journalist carries his or her office – laptop, video camera and cell phone – in a bag and can post live video reports or audio and text from any location.

Poynter’s interdisciplinary curriculum was made more accessible with the rise of its e-learning component, called NewsU, which hit a milestone of 100,000 subscribers this year. The institute’s onsite seminars draw up to 1,200 journalists a year from around the world to study in small groups with faculty mentors, while NewsU offers dozens of free or low-cost online training modules to the journalism student, educator, bloggeror mid-career reporter looking to pick up new skills.

NewsU launched in 2005, and has since created partnerships with more than 25 journalism organizations and obtained a second grant to expand its digital training to new platforms and new audiences, and to increase news literacy.

Poynter recently hosted a conference entitled “Who Will Pay for the News?” and the postings on the prolific Poynter website (www.poynter.org) show that some trends, such as giving away content for free, are hotly debated by career journalists.

“Traditional boundaries have been erased,” says Clark. “People around the world are grappling with the same problem.”

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