Journalists of the future

"Mate," said my colleague Ben, when I told him about being invited back to the old student paper I edited to do a talk on the future of journalism and how to get into in. "You know you've made it when your old university invites you back." "Chances are everybody else was busy," said I. "And I'm cheap."

It was an unexpectedly enjoyable surprise to find myself back at Cardiff University Students' Union on a Saturday afternoon to speak to the section editors and writers of gair rhydd. It was also interesting from my own point of view, as I learned a few bits and pieces as well.

Before my waffle talk, Will Dean (The Guardian) and Greg Cochrane (ex-NME, now Radio 1), both ex-gair rhydd members, did their bit as well. What was telling was the amount of times words relating to the internet were thrown around. Podcasting was a common one. Blogging was another.

It shows how quickly the industry is moving these days. When I was editor, blogging was still very niche [1]. Podcasting hadn't even entered our lexicon. Now Greg and Will are using these terms casually, as part of everyday work. None of us are journalists who'd been told this stuff was vital to our industry when we were learning the ropes.

You want proof of how the web has and will continue to shape journalism. You've just read it.

Interesting (and surprising) bit number two: When I asked how many people in the room were blogging, I had a couple of tentative hands. When I asked if any were on Twitter, no hands went up [2]. A few other social media sites elicited no response. On reflection, I think, I should have asked how may people had heard of these sites.

This surprised me somewhat, as I'd assumed (dangerous, I know) that many more journalism hopefuls were blogging in this day and age (when I did my BJTC course, I was the only blogger). I guess, when you spend so much of every day working in this area, you forget not everybody's quite such of a web geek as yourself.

By the time I'd finally shut up, they'd seen Phillip Schofield explain what Twitter is and had their picture posted up on my Twitter stream.

They also had your crowdsourced advice (thanks to everyone who responded) and probably had it drummed into them that they needed to be online in some form, as well as learning as many different skills as possible, to increase their chances of employment in what is currently a very depressed industry, jobs-wise.

But it was also refreshing that, in the informal chat that followed, there was a lack of cynicism over blogging, Twitter, video sites like Qik and Seesmic, and other such places. Compare this with those currently employed in the industry. It can be tough to convince media people of the worth of these tools (its a common sigh I get from just about everybody I know who works with more web-based tools).

Granted, that attitude is changing, helped, in part, by more colleagues slowly trying (and, in many cases, getting addicted) these sites and reporting back on their worth. If you want a great example of a mainstream journalist utilising social media, look no further than Dan Wootton from the News of the World.

But for every Dan, or Ben in PR, there's about half a dozen unconvinced hacks or press officers who either don't have the time, the inclination or the web knowledge to leap in.

And that's one of the joys about chatting to student journalists. They're willing to listen; they're willing to try new things. Ok, they may not get on with Twitter. They may decide that blogging isn't for them. It's the same for everybody. But they're less likely to dismiss these communication tools, which, for me, is encouraging.

I had several queries about setting up blogs - the software to use, how to pick up readers, etc - and a few about assorted sites like Twitter. I had a long chat with the current editor about making their website more Web 2.0 friendly. And, hopefully, we'll see a few of them blogging and Twittering in the coming weeks.

Here's a quick list of those I spoke to yesterday who've already joined Twitter:

Ben Bryant (gair rhydd editor): @benbryant

Emma (Comment & Opinion editor): @emcetera

Tom Victor (Sorry Tom, I didn't catch your section): @tomvictor

Feel free to stop by and say hi to them.

[1] Ok, you could argue it still is, in many respects. But back then few newspapers were leaping aboard the blogging bandwagon. It felt much like where Twitter was last year.

[2] I think this may have been out of shyness on a couple of parts. It's taken me this long to accept I'm an utter geek (or nerdlinger, which Katie LeeΒ uses often and I think fits nicely). I didn't like to admit it that far back.