Journalists tell all: how social media and technology have changed news forever

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By Emily Johnson – Editor-in-Chief

A crowd of more than 50 UNO faculty, students and community members hustled to the UNO Thompson Alumni Center’s Bootstrapper Hall early Saturday morning to celebrate the kickoff of the Omaha 10-10-10 conference this weekend with “The New News: Social Media and Backpack Journalism.” Saturday’s events began bright and early at 8:30 a.m. with an introduction from award-winning television producer and director Dirk Olsen. Olsen, also the second vice president for the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Heartland chapter, served as program chair and moderator of the day.

At 8:40 a.m., a special video-conference call with Melanie James from the University of Newcastle in Australia began via Skype. Attendees were able to able to grab a complimentary Alumni Center breakfast as they listened to James speak with UNO Director of the School of Communication and professor Jeremy Lipschultz.

The rest of the morning was filled with personal and professional experiences, tips and advice from three journalists on the changing landscape of social media and technology. Misty Montano, an assignment editor at KCNC-TV CBS 4 in Denver, Colo.; Kevin Torres, a backpack journalist at KUSA-TV 9 News in Denver, Colo.; and Amy Adams, News Director for Omaha’s WOWT shared their experiences about journalism taught in the university, what they’ve learned in their careers so far and where they see the industry going.

For Adams, the most important advances have been the quality and speed of news videos to her station. She pulled up a video example of recent spot (a term meaning on-the-spot) coverage of what happened when a news team arrived on the scene of a nasty windstorm. The storm had overturned a semi-truck on the interstate, but it wasn’t long after the team started to walk around and gather information that it came across a half-destroyed hotel, its roof peeled entirely off.

For the stations online readers, these breaking pictures and video updates spoke louder than words could have.

“Don’t just write me a story about what the hotel looks like,” Adams said. “Show me. I want to know what it looks like.”

Montano had similar advice. While working for her station, she began a personal Twitter account and tweeted about Colorado forest fires and office updates. After she started to get a wide following, she turned to the station and bridged its social media gap.

For her, modern viewers and readers are looking for two very different things: some are detached readers and clamor for unbiased reporting, while others want to be a part of the process and prefer to know more about the people who are providing their news. Either way, she said, employers are looking for something that universities haven’t been pushing enough – journalists who can do it all.

“It’s up to each of us journalists and our management to expect that,” she said. “If we don’t expect that, then I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’re a very good journalist.”

Torres is a perfect example of a backpack journalist. Calling himself a “one-man band,” he travels Colorado and the surrounding area, writing, photographing and recording his own stories, editing the content and emailing it back to the office every day.

While it’s a demanding job that requires constant scheduling and sacrifices from his personal life, he’s quite happy managing his own content and focusing more on personalizing his work, experimenting with video and technology, and using natural sounds. He first started backpack reporting for stations in New York, winning four Photographer of the Year awards before breaking new territory in Colorado.

For one story he interviewed a man who lost his 60-year-old home and everything in it to a wildfire. All that he could save was a picture album, which contained some amusing photos of bears and moose that had wandered onto the man’s porch deck in years past.

Torres stressed that the best stories don’t come from awkward silences, but come from personal, casual conversations.

“One of the things you should do as a one-man band is while you’re actually setting up your equipment and filming is having a conversation, because when you’re doing a one-on-one interview. they’re sort of going to give you this generic sound that a typical reporter would get,” he said. “If you’re filming their pictures [and say] ‘Wow, that bear looks kind of funny’ and [he says] ‘Yeah, he’s the masked man,’ that’s when you get the really good sound. Once you start to talk to people and they get to open up quite a bit, they get that sense of comfort with you.

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