There has never been a better time to be a journalist than today, when tools, most of them free, allow anyone to be a publisher and make money from content. Today, anyone can put up a news website using the very same tools running the websites of top publications like the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN News.
To be an effective journalist today, however, one needs to know more than just writing and reporting; one needs to have technical skills.
Journalists today have, at the minimum, to know how to blog. The tools used to run blogs, called content management systems, have become so powerful they are now used to run news websites. They have to be able to work with web services and social networks to enhance their reporting.
Journalists will need to be entrepreneurial. Today, anyone can make money from advertising without even having to talk to an advertiser—by joining programs like Google AdSense. The ads are served by an algorithm that matches these with the website content. You don’t have to look for advertisers; the system finds these for you. If you write about laptop computers, the system will display ads on laptops for sale. Every month, Google sends you your earnings via check or money transfer service.
Journalists today also have to understand metrics to know whether they are effective in their reporting. Some of the most successful news websites are driven by web analytics, where journalists mine server data to check what readers want and use the information to guide their coverage. There is one exciting project funded by the Knight Foundation and Mozilla that will seek to come up with new metrics to measure the impact of journalism.
Journalists of the near future will need to know how to code. They will need to know how to package reports into apps for phones and tablets. It’s not such a strange transition. Newspaper editors, for example, had to move from laying out on paper to desktop publishing in the 1990s.
But the foundation of all these is still good journalism. This I realized early on when I was researching search engine optimization (SEO) in 2005. I found that SEO tips related to content sounded familiar and they should: these were the same pieces of advice I got from a tip sheet on good writing from our then editor-in-chief, which he likely wrote in his DOS-based word processing software.