BARCELONA — If journalism is a profession in trouble, you would never know it from the newsroom at the Mobile World Congress.
It’s hard to find one of the 500 seats in the newsroom empty as journalists from around the world file stories for specialty newspapers, websites and blogs. Unfortunately, few journalism schools can boast about placing their alums here.
Technology journalism is booming.
“There are lots of jobs out there,” said Kerry Davis, a recent M.A. grad from the University of Maryland. “But I don’t know anyone out there teaching people how to do it.”
Davis is an experienced broadcast journalist hired by IDG News Service when it wanted to expand into multimedia coverage. She is enjoying her success, even though “some of what they say goes right over my head.”
A new vernacular
Knowing the lingo of technology is an important visa to being accepted in the tech journalism world.
“This is different,” said Marco Lombardi, veteran technology reporter for Milan’s il Giornale. “We are learning it day to day.”
A couple of years ago, one of my tech friends paid me an unusual compliment. He said, “You’re not a geek, but you speak geek.” I frankly fake it much of the time, but the point was that one does not need to be a programer to move comfortably through the tech world. As the newsroom here at MWC attests, the world is in desperate need of journalists who can translate what technologists say into a language we lesser beings can understand.
The Need for Institutional Learning
Right now, most of the tech journalists say they learned their specialty on the job. But that job could be much easier to obtain with a few extra college-level courses.
“They really need to learn IT history,” said Simon Lee of Cisco. Lee is global client services executive for Cisco and a key source for journalists. He said coursework that would give journalism students the background to the technology world and an overview of how systems work would be invaluable.
But to survive in the tech journalism world, reporters need consumer behavior expertise.
It’s important to be able to explain the technology, Lee explained, but doubly important to be able to figure out why the consumer is interested in it. That’s the difference between someone who “speaks geek” and a reporter who earns a name in this brave new world.
A version of this post also appeared on the blog for Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri.
Clyde Bentley is an associate professor in print and digital news at the Missouri School of Journalism and was a 2010 fellow to the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. He worked for 25 years in the newspaper industry before earning his Ph.D. at the University of Oregon in 2000. Bentley also studied at the Poynter Institute, the University of Texas and the American Press Institute before joining the Missouri School of Journalism in 2001. His research focuses on citizen journalism, emerging technologies in journalism and the habits, preferences and comfort levels of digital media consumers.