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Are media professionals keeping up with the pace of technology in newsrooms?

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Added 9th January 2017 01:16 PM

News organisations across the globe are investing heavily in digital news operations.

Are media professionals keeping up with the pace of technology in newsrooms?

News organisations across the globe are investing heavily in digital news operations.

By Musaazi Namiti

We just entered a new year and technological advances in 2017, just like in years gone by, will continue to change journalism and the way news consumers get and consume news.

Journalists face a huge challenge of keeping up with the pace of technology, and in a technologically-challenged country like Uganda, they will have their work cut out.

Twenty years ago, an aspiring journalist who wanted to work in print journalism, for example, could do well with just writing skills, a notebook, a pen and (for those who could afford it) an audio recorder.

With a network of trusted sources that they had to contact to verify information or to get information quickly, they would be able to work as reporters. A reporter did not even have to know how to use a computer. Many newsrooms in Uganda were using manual typewriters.

Today’s rapidly changing media landscape means a journalist who is only able to write a good story -- even when they are using a computer and can type fast -- will struggle to impress hiring managers in modern newsrooms.

News organisations across the globe are investing heavily in digital news operations, digital news start-ups are mushrooming and global-oriented news outlets are developing and using audience data and metrics to better serve news consumers. This means only journalists with technical skills that extend far beyond writing will fit the bill.

The journalist of the 21st century is not expected to fumble for a pen to jot down something when they have a good smartphone with internet access. Wherever they find themselves, they will be able to use technology to do multimedia stories that can work across all possible platforms and devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

Proven ability to use technology to produce and disseminate news will, in the course of time, make journalism seem like professions such as engineering and medicine, which pride themselves on being highly skilled.

Journalists are going to have to embrace technology because it is creating new areas that have become an integral part of journalism.

Social media is a prize example. A journalist with a passion and enthusiasm for social media, as well as a demonstrated ability to use social media effectively, is an asset in a modern newsroom. If, for instance, you want to hire a social media editor, this is the kind of journalist you will be looking for.

But how can journalists acquire these skills? Through training and the best training can be provided by professionals who themselves have similar skills.

Journalism departments at universities and other institutions of higher education can and should lead the way. They need to ensure that the training their students get is tailored to the demands of a rapidly changing media landscape.

Students should be trained in such a way that once they walk into a newsroom and they are asked to do much more than writing stories (think multimedia), they will live up to their employers’ expectations; they will be comfortable with technology in newsrooms.

At some universities with well-established journalism departments, journalism students hone their skills reporting for college newspapers/radio/TV stations and news websites. We do have college newspapers in Uganda, but no radio and TV stations.

The college newspapers are catering to the training needs of students who want to work as print journalists, leaving those who are aspiring to become broadcast journalists without proper training.

Journalism departments need to build news websites purely for training purposes – complete with content management systems and web analytics tools (used to measure and optmise the performance of a website).

If you are running a journalism school that trains students to write news for the web (among others), edit and shoot video, use social media and suchlike skills, there is a good chance your students will meet the needs of today’s job market. Journalism students cannot do without this kind of training because digital journalism is the journalism of the future.

All this requires money, of course. You have to spend to build a modern campus newsroom. Yet Ugandan universities – private and public – still complain about limited budgets. How are they going to invest in this technology and give their students the best training they need?

There are no easy answers. But there is always a way to start, and the best way is to think outside the box and find new ways of generating funds.

Musaazi Namiti was Al Jazeera’s Digital Editor in charge of the Africa Desk and is currently working independently

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