Newspapers, magazines and online publications are beginning to look the same

Staff Reporter

One offshoot of the move by news organizations to converge print, online and broadcast mediums into one multitasking team is that newspapers, magazines and online publications are all beginning to look the same, says Ryerson journalism professor Anne McNeilly.

“As more integration of platforms occurs, the more they begin to resemble each other,” she said. “You get newspapers looking like magazines [the Saturday Globe and Mail], you can see news channels looking like websites [CNN], and magazines also functioning as radios [The Economist and The New Yorker].  In the next few years, there may not be much differentiation in appearance.”

McNeilly said news organizations across North America, Europe and Australia are in various stages of determining how to integrate print, online and often broadcast components of the news.

“The Globe’s news and online editors now work together more closely, and you can see breaking stories for news going directly to the web, while more in-depth features and analytical articles are going to the print paper,” she said. “You have a front page that often resembles a magazine cover, with pictures and captions being used to promote the paper’s inside stories, particularly on Saturdays.”

McNeilly, an assistant professor at Ryerson’s School of Journalism, said the school now focuses on teaching cross-media skills and theory rather than preparing students to specialize in just one medium. Students are no longer being “streamed” into broadcast, online or print platforms, she said, to ensure that they are prepared for the new world of journalism where news forms are converging and multitasking may be required.

“There is the expectation now that journalists can work for more than just one medium. We can’t teach what we did 10, or even five years ago,” she said. “We don’t want to graduate students into a dinosaur era. We want them to move forward and be creative in the new media environment.”

She said some journalists, such as Melvin Mencher, from Columbia’s school of journalism in the United States, are concerned that the technical skills required to work in today’s multiplatform world, mean key journalistic principles may not be emphasized, or even taught.

She said Mencher, author of a core journalism text, News Reporting and Writing (1991), expressed concern in an interview last year that journalism basics are being lost because schools no longer have time to teach them, given the growing technical component.  “It’s now reached a point of no return where the technology is taking over the curriculum with disastrous effect,” Mencher said in an interview in in 2010.

McNeilly, however, was more optimistic.  “How do you maintain core journalistic values like accuracy, fairness, balance, verification, interviewing techniques when you’ve got a whole load of material to produce for three different platforms?”  she asked. “That’s the challenge.  It means the bar is set higher, but it is necessary if we are to remain relevant. ”

She also said news can now be posted on a website so quickly that the accuracy of the information on a breaking story might be jeopardized.  “It used to be that the web was the poor sister, off in the corner on her own, and you didn’t have to pay too much attention.  You kicked a few print stories over when  they came in. But there is no doubt that the poor sister is now the huge big brother and everyone else is a supplicant,” she said. “It means the speed and tempo of the newsroom can be dramatically increased.”

Because information can be posted so quickly to the web, McNeilly said accuracy becomes crucial.  “You have to be careful because if a story is wrong, people will lose faith in your publication because, really, what is a publication selling but its credibility? That’s the reason you buy it. Because you believe the information in it is true.”

She said it is imperative that young journalists learn how to function in the new media environment.

“The bar is higher because you’re learning journalism basics as well as the technology,” she said.  “It’s a really exciting time to be in journalism. I wish I could go back now because I love multimedia. It is a way of telling a story in a whole new way. Multimedia isn’t video, it isn’t print, it’s a way of telling a story that is totally unique.”

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