Backpack journalism, smaller budgets and the move towards being a jack of all trades journalist

Going through archives of the The Appalachian from the 1970’s tonight made me think a lot about the evolution of journalism and how far we have come, and what we have left behind.

It was a rough feeling to see those old pages filled with tons of ads for cars, sub shops, shopping, records, beer, movies and more, knowing that the papers we publish now have approximately three ads, mostly for apartment complexes.

I am nearing graduation, and it frightens me that readership of papers is significantly decreasing and people are not buying ads or subscriptions to papers hardly anymore — the way that journalists have been paid for ages.

I love print. It aches me to see everything moving from print to online and digital. I don’t think I will ever get tired of a morning cup of coffee with a newspaper, and the bit of ink that stays on my thumbs after flipping through. I love the smell of books and love turning to the next page, dog-earring pages and writing new notes in a different pen each time I re-read. But I live in a bit of a fantasy.

Our world is moving out of this, and a lot of journalists still live in the nostalgia and don’t know where journalism is headed from here (and if they do, it seems to be rejected quick by many old-school journalists who don’t stick with the new stuff long enough to see the results become beneficial).

The good thing about where I stand, as a soon-to-be graduate of 2016, is that I am leaving college and entering the journalism field knowing where the audience went, where they are going, what they want — and knowing how to reach all of those needs.

People want to connect, they want to share, be in control of what they are viewing, receive specialized information and see it in a visually appealing way. And we must give the people what they want, or get out of the way of the people that will and already are.

In journalism, everything has gotten smaller. No no, the space we now have is vastly unlimited, empty shelf space if you will. But the budget has gotten smaller, the technology to photograph and edit, the recorders, video cameras, printers, computers, you name it.

As the budget decreases, so does the number of people on a staff, or a team. Reporting, and different multimedia positions, are put on a “shoe string budget.”

This means that each team member needs to produce excellent content for each story, but contribute more than one thing to a story. Journalists these days have to do it all. They go to the place, interview, take pictures, video and edit them. Their editors might not use their photos or video, but it is becoming a necessary thing to be able to be the jack of all trades in journalism.

You could call these multi-faceted journalists “backpack journalists.” You carry everything you need for a full story in your backpack. This means your computer, phone, possible iPad, audio recorder, mic, headphones, and pen and paper (for you old schoolers).

Now, there are always pros and cons to anything, and that doesn’t change with backpack journalism. With carrying every necessity in just a backpack, your access is incredibly increased. Everything you need is portable and works together. It is easier on that level. But, the cons come in.

No longer are you necessarily going to be reporting with a photographer and videographer with you, you will be put on a story and expected to get your own multimedia content. If you are a photographer or videographer, odds are, you won’t be working in that large of a team nearly as often as you are alone.

Journalists are creative people, I believe, at the heart of all of this. And creative people need to run ideas by their colleges and process ideas, with criticism and encouragement from fellow journalists. But that is decreasing as the number of people assigned to a story decreases to about, well, just you.

A journalist is a story-teller. As journalism becomes smaller, more focused and more individual, we still need to stick to the main point of journalism, that will never change, and ask ourselves continually, “what is the story here?” And then tell that story in different ways, with words, photo, graphics, video and anything else that appeals to this evolving audience.