Looking at the future of journalism and why one grad is optimistic

The future of journalism
Jolene Latimer
Journalist Jolene Latimer

It’s been quite a time for journalism in the last few years, with new publishing platforms, a resurgence of long-form journalism, and creative new funding models.

The difficulties include fake news, manipulation of the media, a smaller number of jobs and hence greater competition, and job insecurity.

With this kind of environment, why would a young person study journalism? Why plan to give their best years to the craft?

Jolene Latimer, a 28-year-old journalist, answers these questions and more. Jolene will will soon graduate from the University of Southern California (USC) with an M.A. in Journalism.

Originally from Edmonton, Canada, Jolene already has an impressive work history. She covers sports for the Associated Press, and has written for USA Today and the CBC.

We explore Jolene’s career choice with her, as well as her views on the future of journalism.

Given journalism’s roller-coaster ride, why did you decide to enter journalism? What’s the appeal to you?
After my undergraduate degree I struggled trying to understand what the core competencies are that I can bring to any organization. Finally, I figured out that it was writing.

I’m OK at a few different things, but I’m a standout writer and I think writing is my best shot at being able to make some kind of a positive impact on our culture. So once I started to organize my life around becoming the best writer I could be it seemed natural to go back to school and get a Master’s in journalism.

There are some great journalism schools in Canada. Why did you select USC over a homegrown program? What factors did you consider?
What I discovered at USC after my first degree there is that the alumni pool is vast and there’s a strong sense of pride that Trojans take in helping each other out. You can learn how to write but it’s harder to manufacture moments or develop relationships that set you up for success and that’s where the Trojan family seems to be a benefit.

Journalism brings new opportunities

When we talked prior to this interview, you expressed optimism about new opportunities in journalism. And clearly you’re passionate about delivering content to younger audiences. Tell us about some of the developments you’re particularly excited about.
I think NBC and Buzzfeed have launched two really interesting programs in the last year that could help carve a path forward for journalists. Young people do want news and are very engaged in the world around them — but the way they access news now is different.

I was speaking in an undergraduate class last week and when polled none of the students said they have a cable TV package.

Those same students all have Snapchat. So, young people are most likely not going to sit down and watch a nightly newscast, but you probably can reach these people on communities like Snapchat and Instagram.

That’s why NBC’s “Stay Tuned” on Snapchat, which amassed an audience of 29+ million viewers in it’s first month seems promising to me. I’m interested to see the results of BuzzFeed’s “AM to DM” which they will start producing for Twitter on Sept 25.

Publishers can learn from the music industry

In terms of media models of delivery, how is what’s happened to the music industry analogous to the media industry? What lessons can both large and small media outlets take from that transformation, and how can they apply them?
Music is another industry that struggled, initially, to respond to the way the internet was changing their business model.

It’s no secret that revenues across that industry were hit hard as decision makers struggled to find a way forward and adjust to a world where music is available for free online.

But the industry did adjust. The internet forced them to think of creative solutions and, as we are finding, there is still a way to make a profit out of music.

I like to describe it by saying that the shovel is smaller, but there is still earth to move. Those wanting to make money just have to make it differently — they have to shovel faster, or smarter.

I think the media industry is facing questions about how to make revenue in the age of the internet that are not unlike those that music has been grappling with. If music can do it, we can too.

Written content vs video content

We read that Millennials and Generation Z consume video voraciously. Some speculate that we’re embarking on the beginning of the end of message delivery via the written word, although Neil Patel, whom I interviewed this year, isn’t so sure. As a journalist and a Millennial, what are your thoughts on this debate?
I think there will always be a place for written content. Practically speaking, it is not appropriate to watch video in every context — and younger generations are consuming content on their phones in almost every context.

So, naturally, there will be moments when they would prefer to read a story instead of watching one — either for more information or because, for example, they’re at work and don’t want their boss to catch them watching a video.

Video is big right now because Facebook is rewarding it handsomely, but is this because there is a great demand for it or because it’s more advantageous to Facebook to have people stay on their platform and watch a video rather than click through a link to someone else’s website?

Regardless, the important thing to remember is that appetite for a certain medium might ebb and flow with time one thing never changes: people always want a good story.

How to engage young people

How can the bigger, traditional media outlets better engage younger people?
Bigger, traditional media outlets need to be savvy about how they are using their social media to do reporting. Social media has grown up from it’s beginnings as a place to discover cat videos or see raw, behind-the-scenes footage. It’s still good for that, but it’s already advanced into the next stages of it’s development where the audiences are expecting and capable of handling serious reporting via social media channels.

In addition the basics (laptop, camera etc), what kinds of digital tools, apps etc are you using regularly in your work?
A great resource that I’ve really come to rely on for graphic design, which I am not skilled at but which is sometimes demanded of me, is the website Canva. People who develop content, especially for blogs, should know about it because it makes it ridiculously easy to create e-books and infographics.

You’ve expressed a desire to freelance after graduating. Will you specialize or are you open to writing about diverse issues/topics?
As far as journalism goes, I’m trying to pursue more sports related stories. I will be heading to the Olympics in South Korea this February!

Are there any key things you want to accomplish in your career?
I hope that I can write stories that others can read and say: “Wow, me too!”

I think good journalism — whether that’s first person or a reported story — provides people with a sense of belonging and fosters understanding about people or circumstances that we didn’t originally think existed.

Always work on your craft

What advice would you give to high school students considering journalism as a career?
It’s cliche but the most important thing is to work on your craft. If you want to become a writer, try to become the best writer. If you want to be on TV, learn how to do that better than anyone else. If you’re good at what you do and fun to work with then opportunities will come to you.

No one has a crystal ball, but do you feel like taking a shot and sharing some thoughts on what journalism’s future looks like in five or ten years?!
I really believe in five or ten years journalism is going to be healthier than ever — there are always stories to be told and if we as journalists embrace change and commit ourselves to understanding how to reach audiences on the internet we’ll have more than enough work to keep us busy for years to come.

Journalist and Content Writer Jolene Latimer

Jolene has a B.A. in English with a double minor in Cinematic Arts and Marketing. Before returning to university for a Masters in Journalism, Jolene gained experience working to create digital content in conjunction with brands like Radio Disney. You can find Jolene on LinkedIn.

Sheelagh Caygill

Sheelagh Caygill is a journalist and content marketer. She has worked for newspapers, news organizations and in the corporate and non-profit sector in Canada and the U.K. She is a Director at Gocontentmarketing.com and is available for freelance assignments. Contact her via the contact form or Linkedin.

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