Seven JMSC ABC News on Campus journalists returned from a field trip to New York in June armed with insights into how to survive and thrive in the competitive world of international journalism from some of the world’s largest and most successful news organisations.
Zela Chin, Liyi Chen, Li Li, Deirdre Wang Morris, Kirti Nandwani, Phillippa Stewart and Lorea Solabarrieta accompanied the JMSC’s Director of Broadcasting Programme, Professor Jim Laurie, to the Big Apple for a four-day intensive tour of the headquarters of some of the world’s largest news organisations.
The team has been reporting for ABC News on Campus since last December.
On the first day, the team visited the Overseas Press Club of America where Allan Dodds Frank, the president of the Club and a contributor to The Daily Beast, gave the student journalists tips on “stringing” — or freelancing for specific organisations.
His advice? When you have a good story, do it as much as you can — as a long story, as a short story, for broadcast, for the internet, for the radio, he said.
“Much hustling to be done to earn a living out there, folks,” said JMSC MJ Liyi Chen. “Might as well milk this cash cow until it goes dry.”
Day two saw a trip to financial news service Bloomberg, whose headquarters are in New York (and share a building with Jay-Z and Beyonce!) The team was shown around by News Director of Bloomberg TV, Mosheh Oinounou, and Michael Serrill, Assistant Managing Editor of Bloomberg Markets, one of Bloomberg’s two text publications. They discussed Bloomberg’s competitors in the form of CNBC, Google, Yahoo! and Fox.
The team then headed off to NBC, the number one rated broadcaster in America. Alexandra Wallace, Senior Vice-President at NBC News, showed them round and gave the budding journalists some good advice:
The team had a look round some studios of iconic shows, including Saturday Night Live.
“We were struck that both NBC News [no less than the Senior Vice President of Network News] and ABC News told us that being able to shoot and edit video are requisite for anyone who wants in the door at any American television news operation,” said Laurie.
“Producers, reporters … everyone needs those skills plus on-line journalism too -– just to get in the door. These developments make our approach in emphasizing Rob McBride’s class in video journalism all the more important for all grad and undergrad students.”
On the third day, the team finally got the chance to meet the ABC News team that had been receiving its reports.
“Greeting us at the door was Christina Caron [the ABC News on Campus commissioning editor], who worked closely with us on many of our stories,” said MJ Zela Chin. “Finally, we got to meet her in person, after corresponding with her over email for six months!”
The team was shown round the studios. They also met Ed O’Keefe, Executive Producer of ABCNews.com. His role includes social media (Twitter, Facebook) and adapting the website to stream on new technologies including the Apple iPad.
O’Keefe explained how ABC keeps a watch on which stories get the hits. The website ranks within the top ten news sites in the country, with 25-45 million unique viewers a month. About 66% of traffic is from search and linkages.
Laurie said this was one of the most informative meetings of the trip.
“One of the more fascinating sessions we had was a detailed briefing from the supervising editor on how he edits and ‘composes’ the front page of ABCNews.com. It is striking how important the identification of what is ‘trending’ is to the process.
“We learned how editors monitor constantly hits, page views, etc. as they alter on-line layout and compete in the on line news world. In days gone by, newspapers adjusted content based on circulation figures studied over months of time. Today editors respond to page view interests in seconds.”
The students learned how the industry is changing and how young journalists now need to be multi-skilled.
“The basic idea is to give the tusk of what used to be done by a three- or four-person crew to one person,” said MJ student Li Li. “This way the expensive cost of an overseas bureau can be reduced to just the cost of one person. This person shoots video, stills and produces text and video packages, which is exactly what we are trained for at [the] JMSC.”
The final day started early. The team arrived at Central Park at 6 am for a live production of ABC’s Good Morning America Summer Concert Series. Well-known Rapper P.Diddy played live with Dirty Money, though in a more manufactured way than the audience at home would perhaps realise.
“The whole concert consisted really of only two songs,” said BJ student Kirti Nandwani.
“Before that, it was mostly sound checks. At times, the stage manager told the audience when the camera would roll live at a certain time frame, expecting us to cheer as loud as possible.
“The GMA show hosts also appeared on the stage before the two-song set, presumably to “report live” from the concert that really wasn’t happening just yet. Still, when the real thing began, it was a blast.”
Team members then headed back to the ABC’s digital media centre where they met John Griffin, co-ordinating producer of ABCnews.com.
“As manager of the website, he keeps hourly tabs on the number of hits and notes popularity trends, switching main stories around to generate more hits if necessary,” said BJ student Liyi Chen.
“Forty percent of all hits are directed from other websites, and if aggregators like Google News or Yahoo News pick up on their stories, Griffin said he basically needn’t worry about ratings for the rest of the day.”
Laurie summed up the experience as an optimistic one for journalists just starting out in the industry.
“Finally – what struck this old-school broadcaster was not the pessimism in the media industry voiced by the ‘old timers.’ Rather, we were struck by the optimism of the under 35 generation who populate the newsrooms of Bloomberg, NBC, ABC, etc. in New York,” he said
“Yes, we old timers with higher salaries and traditional journalistic ways have been pushed out, but for the quick, nimble and multi-skilled, a whole new world is opening up. The on-line operations we visited at MSNBC and ABC News.com seemed to be feeling their way -– experimenting with this or that. Yet, it was exciting. And opportunities for a new generation of journalist-entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial journalists seemed limitless.”