Photo provided by seattletimes.com
Young journalists are often lured by news production jobs at well-known newspapers including The Seattle Times.
by LISA CHIU
Hilary Buckley has always wanted to be a news reporter. As a senior at Seattle University, Buckley is graduating next month with a degree in journalism and has two internships at The Seattle Times under her belt.
But despite her love of writing, the job she wants now is to be a news producer for seattletimes.com. Such skills aren’t new to Buckley, 21. She’s currently a multimedia intern at the Times where she’s learning to repackage stories with additional multimedia content, including shooting video, audio and podcasting.
As more newspapers covet multimedia skills to gain greater market share, young journalists are finding news-producer jobs are a way to break into the country’s top newspaper Web sites. But some in the industry wonder if it might pigeonhole young reporters whose real love is writing.
It was a journalism professor who introduced Buckley to the multimedia internship at the Times, she said, as she headed to film an event where presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was speaking.
When she’s done, she’ll edit two to three short video clips that highlight Romney’s speech. The video will enhance an article by a reporter.
“My first love will always be writing, but I feel like I’m learning a lot on the online side,” Buckley said. “It’s fun to put together stories in other ways other than writing.”
Buckley said many of her classmates are also moving away from reporting, but not necessarily for the same reason.
“Many kids I go to school with struggle to find print jobs, whereas with multimedia, there are so many openings,” Buckley said. “I feel like a lot of people these days might be just grabbing for whatever they can.”
Buckley’s boss, Robert Hernandez, said he’s seen reporters take news producing jobs thinking it was a way to get their foot in the door, and it hasn’t always been the best fit. As a senior producer at the Times, whenever he gets resumes from people who have been in print reporting their entire career, he always wonders if they are really interested in online or if they just want a job at The Seattle Times.
“When I’ve recruited, I’ve asked folks, what is it you want to do, and let’s get you to do it,” Hernandez said. “Some paths are long, and others lead you in the direction you want to go. If you want to be a Web person, take an internship as a Web person. If you want to be a writer, than stick to it and work your way up.”
It’s a rather old issue for the industry, said Joe Grimm, a recruiter for the Detroit Free Press. Years ago, the same could be said about copy editing positions, he said.
“When I started there was a greater demand for copy editors than for reporters,” Grimm said. “That’s how I broke in. I couldn’t get a job as a reporter so I came in as a copy editor. I thought, the first chance I got, I would break into reporting. And I never did.”
Grimm has worked as an editor for decades and has written columns and editorials, even a book, but he was never a reporter. He cautions all journalists, young and old, to follow what they love doing.
“You can get pigeonholed,” he said. “It’s harder to move from a high-supply, low-demand job, to a low-supply, high-demand job. If you start as an online producer and take a job as a reporter later, your clips will be old and others will have surpassed you in terms of experience. You will be in a trap, and you have to watch out for it.”
One thing a reporter can do is to brand herself or himself as a journalist with technological skills that can make them stand out, he said. That could mean anything from knowing how to manipulate databases to shooting video. And being knowledgeable about multimedia has nothing to do with age, he adds.
“Some of the [tech] savviest people I know are old,” Grimm said.
While newspapers sail ahead online, Grimm worries that other issues, such as diversity, may fall by the wayside. Papers that don’t address the issue may find themselves unprepared for the changing face of the country.
“While newspaper Web sites were trying to figure out how to get movies on YouTube, their audience could completely change, and they weren’t even paying attention to it,” Grimm said.
The impetus for the emphasis on online is less about technology and more about newspapers trying to capture an increasingly smaller audience, he added. Technology only allows papers to gain access to readers who have found new ways to connect. Newspaper Web sites play a big role in capturing that audience.
According to the Newspaper Association of America’s “digital edge report,” issued in October 2007, 52 percent of large-market Web sites got 35 million page views each month, an increase from 35 percent in 2003, and 19 percent in 2002.
The Online News Association also saw its membership grow by 50 percent, to 1,400 members, between August 2006 and August 2007, said Lori Schwab, executive director of the association.
Hernandez, of the Times, said he views his craft as serving as a counsel to reporters to tell the best story possible. That could mean a story works better as a video or as a slideshow.
“Storytelling is different online. I’m not writing anything, but I’m educating reporters on different tools they can use in their toolbox,” Hernandez said.
And while it was more common a few years ago for young reporters to take news producer jobs to get in at a good newspaper, now Hernandez finds that people applying really want to be multimedia producers. Like Hilary Buckley.
“I am worried I can be pigeonholed,” Buckley admits. “My true love is writing, but I care about the news in general and I care about the media. And if this is the direction its going, I should just jump in.”