All aboard the content train
Journalism is changing as profoundly as Gutenberg's era, but I for one am excited to learn these new tools and technology.
by Steve Buttry '76
Updated: Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Steve Buttry ’76 is information content conductor at Gazette Communications in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
When I was learning to gather and report the news at TCU in the 1970s, my tools were a notebook, a pen and a camera. Occasionally, I would use a large desk telephone that was as mobile as the length of its cord.
I couldn’t imagine a day when a phone in my pocket would function as notebook, pen and camera. I didn’t know what a database was. I thought Twitter was the sound that rippled across a lecture hall if a professor said something funny. I thought I knew what a social network was — a fraternity or sorority.
In 33 years since leaving TCU with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, I have seen constant change in the newspaper business. One of the few things I learned during my time at TCU that still applies was that newspapers are a perilous, unstable business.
The Fort Worth Press folded twice during my time at TCU. In the years since, I have been present for the deaths of the Des Moines Tribune and the Kansas City Times. This year, I watched from afar as the Rocky Mountain News and Seattle Post-Intelligencer published their last editions. The great culprit blamed for the deaths of the Rocky and P-I is the Internet, but the Press, Trib and Times printed their last editions years before the birth of the World Wide Web.
A journalist today operates on multiple platforms with multiple tools. When a news staff member at my company, Gazette Communications in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, goes to cover a breaking story, he or she may haul along a backpack with a digital camera that shoots video and stills, a digital audio recorder and a laptop computer. From the scene, the journalist may post a 140-character bulletin on Twitter, then file a story and photo for GazetteOnline and phone in to our television station, KCRG, for an on-air report. Later, the journalist will edit the video (though if it’s a big story, we could stream the video live through the laptop). Eventually, he or she will write a story for the morning paper.
If a reporter is covering an event such as a trial, meeting or football game, he or she liveblogs — writing as the event unfolds and answering questions from the audience.
When a historic flood damaged more than 5,000 homes and 1,000 businesses in Cedar Rapids last June, we told the breaking story to our digital audience with text alerts, a live webcam, videos, photo galleries and interactive maps. In the months since, we have used interactive multimedia projects to help people track the recovery of the Czech Village district and the cleanup of a collapsed railroad bridge. We have used interactive databases to tell the story property by property and to help people see who had applied for buyouts from disaster aid.
Two years ago, I was training journalists in Germany and had an extra day to visit the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz. I was awed not only by the artifacts from the early days of printing and the original Gutenberg Bibles, but by the beautiful handcrafted Bibles made in the days before movable type. I count myself privileged to work as a journalist in a time that I liken to the era of Gutenberg. Those monks saw their world changing, but that new technology would take their message to untold millions who would never own one of those precious handcrafted Bibles.
Journalism is changing as profoundly today. I am excited by each new tool I acquire or learn.
Contact Buttry at email@example.com.
Steve Buttry ’76 is information content conductor at Gazette Communications in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His vision for the future of journalism, A Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection is available on his weblog: stevebuttry.wordpress.com.
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