2020: What’s ahead for journalism?
Our editor-in-chief and dean of Communications at Quinnipiac University Chris Roush shares his thoughts on how journalism has changed for reporters, news consumers and students, and discusses how he expects the industry to evolve over the next decade.
Tell us a bit about how you got your start in journalism and what piqued your interest in business journalism specifically.
When I was in college, I wanted to be a sports reporter. I was really into it and thought, there’s no cooler job than going to a sporting event and be paid to write about it. I started doing it in college and It was a much harder job than I think a lot of people realize. The games were late at night, the deadlines were tight and tough, and you essentially had to give up your social life to do it. Don’t get me wrong; I still love reading a good sports story, but I switched over to writing more news about half-way through college. Once I was done with grad school, I needed a job, which is when I started my path in business journalism. I fell in love with it because it was a lot like sports. There are winners and losers and there’s a quarterback — it’s just a CEO. There are a lot of parallels there. What I really fell in love with was writing stories is how a company or a business-related topic affects them personally: where the jobs are and aren’t going to be, why they aren’t getting paid as much. Everything in this world revolves around money and I didn’t realize that until I started writing about business.
I’m sure you’ve seen the industry change significantly over the last few decades. What do you think the biggest technology changes will be for journalism over the next 10 years?
Technology is going to continue to have a dramatic impact on journalism. What that means to me is that reporting is going to improve and writing is going to improve. We’ve already seen in the past decade how tech is doing more of those tasks. Business reporters have an easier time finding stories because of technology. They can now easily sift through SEC filings and other documents to find information without having it be a massive time commitment. I also see the trend continuing where tech is going to be writing more stories. This will likely be more of the basic type of stories that are the bread and butter of business journalism – earnings or economic data stories.
Is there any validity in the fear that technology could replace journalists?
People are fearful because they think AI will replace reporters, but I don’t think this will be the case. All technology is doing is freeing up reporters to write more complex stories that AI can’t do — those in-depth pieces are always going to be necessary. Tech will never replace good, old-fashioned reporting, talking to people, going to meeting people, finding out what’s really going on by being immersed in a community. I don’t think tech is ever going to, or could, replace that.
You talked a bit about the overall improved quality of journalism. What would you say are the bright spots in the industry right now?
Journalists are really digging. No matter what you think about our current president, he’s prompted an examination of what’s going on in our society. We’re seeing news organizations that aren’t typically known for hard-hitting reporting evolve by going into more serious topics over the last decade. I look at Watergate, which really led to the rebirth of journalism or the re-energization of journalism during that time period. We’re seeing a similar thing happen now.
What do you think journalism could improve upon, or do a better job of?
The one thing that people seem to be asking journalism for more of is explaining how you do what you do. I don’t think we do enough to explain the process of journalism — how do you vet sources, how do you find sources. We see so many claims of ‘fake news,’ or allegations of using sources anonymously so they can promote an agenda within a stories. And I think journalism, in general, has to do a better job of explaining how thoroughly we interview people and how we are fair and balanced. I think we’ve lost a lot of trust in society and consumers. We just ask them to blindly trust us because we have their best interest in mind — but we’re at a point that this needs to be proved.
What are some effective ways of communicating that to an audience?
I’ve seen business journalists around the country host coffee with the editors or reporters. They invite their readers to come to a coffee shop and just talk to them about their jobs and what they do, and what they’d like to get out of the relationship between the readers and the newspapers. Journalists don’t really have a hidden political agenda — they just want to report stories and get information out to people.
That in-person relationship reporters have with members of its community is one often found in local journalism. What’re your thoughts on both the importance of community newspapers and their apparent decline?
Local journalism is where we need the most investment. If the smaller town newspapers aren’t covering their boards of education because they don’t have the staff, important stories are being missed and things are going uncovered. Community newspapers are also great training grounds for journalists when they’re straight out of school. My first job in journalism was covering the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and courts in Florida. It taught me so much about how the world works on a daily basis.
Speaking of young reporters who are just starting their careers – what do you think is motivating young people to work in journalism right now?
It’s definitely not the money, but I think it’s what they’re seeing happening in society today. There are a lot of issues to tackle, and I think people see journalism as a way to educate people and expose them to new information and start a conversation about fixing some of these problems. There’s a student here at Quinnipiac that I just met who is so passionate about covering politics and government, she just blew me away for wanting to write about stories that made a difference. And I see that in a lot of students.
How have you seen the journalism curriculum change over time?
There’s been some major changes in curriculum in some ways — and then in other ways, there hasn’t been any change at all. We’re having to teach students how to deliver stories or do stories using a variety of methods. It’s not just print anymore — they have to be able to write a print story, do a video story, or a podcast about the story. You’ve got to teach them a variety of different formats to present that story. Because of the technology, the content has to be delivered in different ways.
What’s not changed in the 35 years since I’ve been in school is that the basics still matter. Getting the facts correct, making sure you spell people’s names correct, using AP style, those types of things haven’t changed at all and I would hope never do change.
How important is it for journalists to build their personal brands?
I do think in a lot of cases, you want to build up an audience of people who are interested in the type of stories you write about. The easiest way is social media, and there are some really good business journalists that are phenomenal at doing that. But you’re not just doing that to build up an audience to read your stories. Some of those people in your audience are going to wind up being your sources. You want to show them that you do quality work. They’re more likely to talk to you as a journalist when you call and ask them to be a source. That’s kind of one of the big reasons they need to have a presence to help with their writing.
How do reporters deal with the age-old issue of being right versus being first? The way we consume news is instantaneous and there’s this pressure to break the news, but sometimes reporters miss the bigger picture or important aspects of a story in a rush to be first.
This is one of the biggest issues facing business journalism today — there’s such a rush to get content out there particularly if you know that people are going to read it where the news could affect the stock price. People want to be able to make a decision. That doesn’t mean you should hit the publish button before triple checking everything. I’d hope that every reputable publication out there is still doing that.
I once had an editor who would print out every single story and underline the facts and go back and double-check every single fact in that story before hitting publish. It meant sometimes not being first. I’d lean toward being right before being first.
More than 3,000 journalists lost their jobs this year. What would you say is the fall-out from that, besides a lot of smart and qualified people now being unemployed?
Journalists are so vital to the success of this country and every country around the world. So many people rely on the information that journalists are gathering on a daily basis to make decision after decision, and I think some people in society have lost sense of that fact. I’d like for us to get back to understanding without journalists, society collapses in a lot of ways. if you’re thinking about going into journalism — and I know a lot of young people who are — I hope that they still realize that it’s vitally important to society. Despite what people are saying about journalists these days, we need them.