Digital journalist: Life in the in-between lane

Digital journalist: Life in the in-between lane

Look at your business card. Chances are, it probably says something like Social Media Editor, Social Media Producer, Digital Producer, Web Producer or Web Editor. All of the titles essentially mean the same thing: you don’t fit into your newsroom.

I am sure many of you are confused by that statement, and I don’t mean to imply that you aren’t an important part of your team, however, I’m sure you have felt some growing pains as journalism -- in every medium -- tries to fit into this new model.

What can you do about it? You can adapt as you have always done.

To be a digital journalist means to be a trailblazer. It means finding out new things before people even know to ask if there’s something new. It means, at times, being lonely and, at others, it means being a teacher even if your supervisor has more years in the business than you have alive.

Here are five tips to help you find your place and help you help your team.

1. Find communities of journalists with similar interests. I’m a digital producer in TV so, technically, I’m not a “journalist” but I am someone (with a print journalism degree) that believes traditional journalism skills are even more important when you’re curating a social media/web presence because of the reach that you have. Find Twitter chats like #muckedup that talk about these issues, find groups like Social Journalism on Facebook that discuss industry best-practices and find an organization that is dedicated to journalists in this field. The Online News Association, Society of Professional Journalists and Radio, Television Digital News Association are some great professional organizations that can help you find your group as well. These organizations are great (and I am a member), but I also think it is important to find social journalists in your area and try to network locally.

2. Understand what you do and be able to give an elevator pitch. You know what you do every day at work. You know how to explain it to your boss and, perhaps, to your family and friends. Can you explain it to a complete stranger who doesn’t have the slightest idea of what goes on in the “business?” If you can’t, that’s something you need to work on. You’ll feel better when you can explain your place because you will automatically know your place. My definition: a digital journalist is someone who can take a story from idea to interviews to full social media strategy, with photos, videos and graphics, depending on the article.

3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Finding your place in your company may be the most difficult part. Nowadays, many traditional news organizations have web producers and developers -- and a lot of people think they’re exactly the same thing. If you’re a lucky (and, quite frankly, smart) web producer you know how to write HTML and maybe a little more in-depth code and you can certainly talk to the developers. Many of you are not, at least not the ones I’ve come across, looking to give up writing, interviewing and editing editorial pieces all together for a life of back-end coding. True journalists who jump into this field are social creatures, we wouldn’t be happy coding in the dark and shouldn’t have to do it! Here’s where you get comfortable being uncomfortable. You can have this conversation with your boss and see what they think -- ask your supervisor to describe your job and the developer’s job. This will not only help them get a clear picture of the things you do (or want to do), it will also help you figure out your elevator pitch.

4. Make a title up. No, I’m not saying lie, but if you truly feel like your current title is not going to help you advance in the way you want/need to, make it up. Talk to your boss and see if they’d be willing to change your title. You can position it as a “free upgrade” that will entitle you to join the ranks of the digital journalists, helping you help them. Basically, try to have a conversation with your bosses every 6-8 months. Tech changes quickly and this will help you stay on top of the changes and continue to be the trailblazer they hired. This is something that, in my personal opinion, is really only necessary for early-career digital journalists or journalists looking to transition to a more code/social media focused role.

5. Freelance. Freelancing, if you’re allowed to do it, is a great way to bring in extra cash and also to develop skills that you may not be able to develop in your current full-time position. Become a social media curator on the side or a newsletter editor. This is the perfect opportunity to gain experience, find more contacts and make up a title that helps you move your career forward.  

Quick recap:

Digital journalists are trailblazers who often have to find new things before they’re even thought of. They talk the tech walk but are incredibly social creatures who aren’t ready to give up the writing, editing and interviewing just yet. They are interested in reaching a large audience through a clear editorial strategy on social media, exercising editorial judgment as necessary. They don’t always fit in, but they can find a place for themselves by being open, communicating and being comfortable in being uncomfortable -- basically, by being the journalists they were trained to be.

Have thoughts on this? Tweet me! I’d love to meet more digital journalists and figure this out together!

Victoria Reitano is a Digital Producer with The Meredith Vieira Show, launching in September. She also serves as the Co-Chair for The Society of Professional Journalist's Generation J committee. In the past, she served as a Digital Producer with "bethenny" and "LIVE with Kelly and Michael." She also served as a Local Editor for Patch.com and her work has been published in USAToday, The Staten Island Advance and ThisOldHouse.com. She loves dogs, SoulCycle, Yoga and New York City. You can connect with her on Twitter, @giornalista515.

Photo: Team of reporters via Shutterstock

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