Journalism 101: Week 2

Just a quick post on how the second installment of Dancing About Architecture, a five-part course titled ‘Journalism 101’ is going.

Last week, Jim Carroll and Patrick Freyne kindly gave up their time to chat on the topic of ‘Critic School’, what makes a good critic, how to be one, and how they got where they are. We had a full house upstairs in McGrattans, and the discussion seemed to engage people and spawn questions and conversations about criticism in general, music writing, TV reviewing, pitching, commissioning, how to break the cycle of writing for free, getting a foot in the door, and how to get better at writing in this arena in general.

There seemed to be plenty of positive feedback from the evening, so unless you’re all prolific liars (in which case, welcome to journalism) I think it went well. Apart from people chatting on Twitter about it and emailing me etc, there have been a couple of more lengthy dissections of the event, like this blog post by James Hendicott.

One thing that strikes me as something that’s going to be a constant theme throughout these five weeks, is that every time we’re talking about this stuff, we’re talking in the context of an industry that’s in dramatic flux. Friends and colleagues of mine in journalism – even people with relatively secure jobs, if you can call them that anymore – talk about the dodgy future of the industry, the financial pressures, whether online and print can coexist or whether it’s some sort of journalistic land-grab,  the fact that print is essentially a sunset industry, possible exit strategies from journalism, how to make journalism part of a wider career, and so on. So it’s important to consider this context while talking about the basics of getting a foot in the door. It’s harder to get your foot in when the doors themselves are flying all around that place like that door chase scene in Monsters Inc.

That’s why in many ways I think you create your own doors. I am not referring to Skrillex’s collaboration with The Doors. That’s an entirely different topic. Something that I said last week (I think) is that never before has it been so easy to get your name out there if you’re good at what you do. The ability to self-publish and indeed self-publicise has been completely democratised by the online tools we’re already familiar with. Journalists starting out are now their own gatekeepers, and while the concept of staff jobs and jobs for life is pretty much over in the industry, on the flipside, no longer do people have to spend as much time relentlessly pushing to get their work out there in a limited number of places. The places to write are expanding, as are, as Jim pointed out last week, the places where commissioning editors are looking for new writers.

But this new dawn also brings a new set of problems; an adjustment in style and writing for a start, a change in reporting from something very street-level to something that can be more about harvesting, interpreting, filtering, directing to, and aggregating content. People starting out are working for free more and for longer. Experienced journalists who have already done their time are working longer hours for less dosh. New skills have to be learned, new ways of thinking adapted. And again, all with the backdrop of an industry where some outlets are making strides towards the future, and others are chasing their tails.

It’s with all of this white noise buzzing in the background that we enter week two of Journalism 101, ‘New-New Journalism’. Susan Daly, the editor of TheJournal.ie, Markham Nolan of Storyful, and Dancing About Architecture returnee Nialler9 will be there this evening to talk about all of this, and more.

I’ll see you all in McGrattans at 7pm for what should be a sparky and informative evening.

Una

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