The Future of Journalism

by Katherine Rowe

Evan Smith and a panel of reporters spoke optimistically and encouragingly to students about the future of journalism during the The Texas Tribune’s visit to Texas Tech on April 13.

Smith, CEO and editor in chief of The Texas Tribune, a new online news service, told students not to be discouraged when trying to find a job in the media.

“Let me tell you, there is no better time to join the workforce than today,” Smith, former editor of Texas Monthly, said. “At a time when there is so much chaos and upturning in the economy, the barrier of the entry into our business has never been lower.”

Reeve Hamilton, a reporter for The Tribune, graduated from Vanderbilt just two years ago and then did a Texas Legislature internship with The Nation and the Texas Observer. His success at The Tribune can be an example to students graduating soon.

“The reality is that Reeve demonstrated that being in an internship just coming out of school isn’t necessarily a dead-end thing,” Smith said. “He parlayed that into an enormous opportunity. Made a lot of friends, networked very well and, by the end of the time he was there, I had three of four different capital reporters saying to me, ‘As you’re launching the Tribune, you’re going to need some reporters with less experience. You’ve got to hire Hamilton.’”

Kyle Vernor, a freshman broadcast journalism major from Perryton, Texas, was enlightened by the advice given by the panel.

“It was really-eye opening,” Vernor said. “They have a really good, unconventional journalism business going. It was cool to hear their advice, especially hearing the broadcast specialist telling us not to go into broadcast journalism. She was telling us to push towards the Internet.”

Elise Hu, the multimedia specialist for The Tribune and former Austin TV reporter, emphasized the importance of marrying words, moving images and sound to tell a story in the evolving environment of journalism.

“We are moving away from the old page-based, product-based model to a screen-based, process-based model, and that is where multimedia comes in,” she said. “No longer do we have to work to meet deadlines in the newspaper coming out, or a certain amount of pages, which means a certain amount of space.”

Hu said the Web is so infinite that it allows reporters to gather large amounts of information and present all of it instead of selecting parts of the story and delivering it.

Matt Stiles, a database journalist at The Tribune and former reporter with the Houston Chronicle, has helped create a database to present information on all government officials in Texas.

“Rather than gathering data from government agencies in the way that I did at other papers and then producing a traditional type of story,” Stiles said, “I put a lot of the data on the Web so users can interact. It’s a big part of our strategy at The Tribune.”

Stiles said the importance of data, the ability to produce it on the Web, and the ability to talk to programmers and be able to explain goals for use of the information is important to letting readers interact with the data and use it.

Jennifer Wainscott, a senior journalism and Spanish major from Windsor, Colo., said the reporters from The Tribune showed her that there are many things out there to learn.

“I thought it was really great that they took the time to come and speak,” she said. “It changed my overall perceptions of journalism and broadened it.”

Ashik Shafi, a graduate student from Bangladesh, said Smith’s accomplishments have been an inspiration.

“Evan Smith was very dynamic and inspiring,” Shafi said. “I learned a lot from him. He’s like what a journalist should be.”

Shafi thinks the college should try to invite more people who have this kind of personality. He said he likes the whole idea of students not only learning from teachers but journalists, as well. “I think you can learn from interaction with the editor,” Shafi said. “It’s a great opportunity.”

“Let me tell you, there is no better time to join the workforce than today. At a time when there is so much chaos and upturning in the economy, the barrier of the entry into our business has never been lower.”
—Evan Smith

After the 40-minute panel discussion, Smith and the panel spoke with students individually. Smith emphasized the importance of using social media in a company.

Smith said there are 5 million paid newspaper readers in Texas but 7.5 million Facebook users in Texas.

“Facebook is not only the biggest newspaper in Texas,” he said, “but it’s bigger than all of the other newspapers in the world.”

Smith discovered early on that Facebook was a terrific referral site. With almost 9,000 Facebook fans, The Texas Tribune has more Facebook fans than the Dallas Morning News, the San Antonio Express-News, and the Austin American-Statesman combined.

Hu said she finds it fascinating to see how well received The Texas Tribune has been in those worlds. The use of social media creates an organic communication, she said, and that is how this audience gets news.

The shift toward using social media and the screen-based, process-based model for news has not discouraged The Texas Tribune, which has centered its operations on the evolving media to write primarily about public policy, politics and government.

Smith said there is no way to know whether the traditional media is going to be around in the same form, at the same size, at the same level of validity and vitality and robustness that they are today; new models are going to come up and try to augment what they are providing.

“Change is here,” Smith said. “You don’t have a choice.” mc

Katherine Rowe is a senior journalism major from Tyler, Texas.