Why journalists must be multidisciplinary in 2020

Wendy.McWilliam, 22nd October 2020

Like many of us in the year 2020, I’m working from home. As my deadline looms, I clear the decks of my mind in readiness by ticking a few boxes and wiping out tasks. On my way to the keyboard is a shambolic workflow that goes like this: make a salad, check emails, mix guacamole, reply to a text from a mate in Melbourne, consider paying the plumber’s bill, cut roses from the garden for my daughters, light a fire and prepare the audio interface for a studio upgrade.

There’s lots of stuff going on in the same place in a short space of time. I’m multitasking, but productivity expert Julie Morgenstern questions its effectiveness, “It has been scientifically demonstrated that the brain cannot effectively or efficiently switch between tasks, so you lose time." Instead then, let’s consider what it takes to be multidisciplinary.

The rise and rise of mobile devices and their miniaturisation has without doubt unlocked the creative and story-telling abilities of millions, some qualified, others citizen journalists. TV reporters that once worked in a team whilst filing from the field are now solo or at best, working with just one other. Camera operators, depending on their level of skill, may now refer to themselves as directors of photography. Their brief has broadened, as the geographic or political conditions and budget restrictions in locations like Israel restrict personnel numbers.

Qatar-based news service Al Jazeera has been a leader in video journalism (VJ) for over a decade, no doubt inspired by VJ-only news services that emerged in Norway in 1988.  At times, the media industry demands employees and contributors to have a broad skill-set that offers a one-stop shop solution.

To survive as a media maker, you need diverse abilities. Consumers are dictating engagement across multiple platforms so as the ones who make the content, we either do or die. The ABC excels at churning out stories that are presented in different ways. A journalist working in the Darwin newsroom could in any one day, tell the story with words, stills, video and audio. The story will be gobbled up by broadcast TV, iview, mobile, web and radio. News Corp print journalists now combine story writing with presenting video interviews and podcasts. The latter two, newly acquired skills that compliment years of tabloid expertise.And to publish means more than just to imprint newspapers, it now includes uploads to a digital masthead.

To use an Andrew Denton-ism, media is a Hungry Beast.

The news cycle has a ferocious appetite and its consumers appear to be insatiable. Ask a millennial if they’re watching the traditional free to air 6 or 7 o’clock news and the answer is likely to be no.

As a platform of delivery, the world wide web has enabled abundant new ways for audience engagement. It both challenges and compliments traditional outlets. Publish. Broadcast. Stream. Pod-cast. Photograph. Video.

We’re past the emergence of media convergence, we’ve arrived and although you may be writing one story, there’s a few ways to tell it.


About the Author: Nick Bennett is a multi-disciplined journalist, broadcaster and voice-over artist. Nick will be speaking at the CBAA Conference 2020 on Jounralism and Media Making for a Wide Range of Platforms, Friday 30 October.

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The internet provides a means for non-professional media-makers to produce and publish their own video and audio content, as community television and radio have done for several decades. While the web seems to exemplify the principles of media access and diversity championed by the community media sector, it also raises challenges for broadcast community media participants and their online equivalents, not least being the co-opting of the term ‘community media’ by large commercial interests. A symposium held in Melbourne by Open Spectrum Australia (‘Quality/Control’, State Library of Victoria, Oct 2008) brought together people with a wide range of community media experience to discuss this and other issues, particularly the possibilities for greater cooperation between broadcast and online community media participants.

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