By Donna Francavilla, RTDNA Contributor
We tend to think of ourselves simply as journalists. In years past, generally speaking, we were print reporters, writers or broadcast journalists depending on which medium we used to disseminate our stories. While reporters still exist, there are far fewer of them. Digital journalists are gradually replacing reporters.
New-age digital journalists utilize various platforms, writing tweets, and posting on social media sites. Industry-wide, our vocabulary is filled with new words like hashtag, handle, feed, viral, and trending. We use acronyms like TTYL (talk to you later), IDK (I don’t know), and TBT (throwback Thursday). We used to refer to ourselves as radio and television reporters, but we are now audio or video content producers. Today many reporters and photographers are called multi-media journalists or MMJs. (For the uninitiated, that’s a one-man-band.)
The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism now boasts classes in social media and crowd source reporting, smartphone reporting and audio and video storytelling.
I didn’t take a class but I believe I officially transitioned into a digital reporter last month when I engaged in smartphone reporting. It happened while I was marching in the People’s Parade on Joe Cain Day. I covered Mobile’s Mardi Gras parade for CBS Radio News using only my IPhone and new software called Twisted Wave. Friend and colleague Bill Roswell of KYW News Radio in Philadelphia recommended the app, saying that most of the reporters in his shop find it reliable and functional. It is easy to use and remarkably, I didn’t need a microphone, computer, or other recording devices. I discovered my hands were free enough to throw moon pies and beads. In retrospect, parade spectators would have been better off had my hands been occupied; my bad aim resulted in surprised looks as the beads stung them. Whoops.
My Marantz PMD 620, which I used reliably for years, simply began to fall apart. She often failed to function. Her flash drive doors wouldn’t stay open, prompting recordings to stop while the error message, “door open” flashed before me. At times the door to the battery compartment simply flew open and wouldn’t close, shutting her down. I taped the old gal, but scotch tape did little to keep her parts from malfunctioning. The old lady had become fragile and unreliable. After playing with the new Twisted Wave program, I reluctantly retired her to my radio equipment graveyard closet in the office.
Old lady Marantz will be in good company there. She’ll sit next to minidisc players, cassette players, boxes of carts, and stacks of reel-to-reel tapes. Like old familiar friends, they sit together expectantly on the shelf, sadly, relics of the past. Some of the machines are larger than others, and some have interesting names. One of the larger gadgets is called a Hotline. (It hooks into a land-line to produce a studio-quality broadcast). Taking up space on the shelf of mighty workhorse machines is a box-shaped “Report-O-Phone.” In 2008, Cuban security guards thoroughly inspected the solid black box and its white key-pad. The officers couldn’t figure out what the antiquated Report-O-Phone was. They initially thought it was a bomb! After attempting to detonate the device, the guards realized the transmitting device was harmless.
Our well-loved, rather primitive-looking machines cranked out memorable stories for us over the years. Now when we look at the old equipment, the unused devices can tell stories and bring us memories.
As for me, I haven’t mastered Twisted Wave yet, but I did discover that I can record audio interviews, record my voice and natural sound, edit and email or upload reports to the network faster than I ever imagined. Maybe the digital age isn’t so bad after all. And maybe becoming a digital journalist means I won’t be joining antiquated equipment on the shelf, just yet.
Donna Francavilla is a freelance journalist for CBS Radio News and WBMA-TV, ABC 33-40 in Birmingham, Alabama