Journalism is continually evolving. From the established newsroom hierarchical flow of information to the immediate and unforgiving nature of online reporting, the battle to synthesise the conventional norms of print with the more fluid model of social media is ongoing.
The proliferation of new digital technologies and shrinking budgets are forcing journalists to do much more with very little, including operating and delivering the news at the same inhuman speed as social media. Often technology is labelled as a contributing factor in the “crisis” of journalism – the degradation of the newspaper industry, dilution of professional responsibility and the rise of misinformation – but are these digital tools truly that terrible, if employed positively?
“This is where I think editors come in, and where editors who are making decisions and choices are using the [audience] metrics to inform their decisions, but not to lead their decisions. There’s a real big distinction between that. I’d say I’m working with the technology, but I’m not becoming slave to those metrics,” says Anne-Marie Tomchak, editor-in-chief of Mashable UK.
Anne-Marie Tomchak began her journey in DIT, but not through the traditional means as a journalism undergraduate, instead she opted for the creative delights of Film and Broadcasting – a fair whack from the quaint villages and country life of lovely Longford.
“It was such a big change moving to Dublin after growing up in Longford and going to an all-girls secondary school. And then entering into a small class of super creative people who were dedicated to the arts and film. I felt like I had arrived,” she laughs.
She later enrolled in DCU’s MA Journalism course, which offered a work placement in several national publications. Tomchak spent three months being mentored by Sean O’Rourke and working in the RTE newsroom. From there, she hopped across to London, pioneering, at the time, new waves of revolutionary tech, applicable in the evolution of journalism. She spearheaded the development of BBC Trending, a broadcaster’s ‘bureau on the internet’, publishing videos and text blogs on the site as well as producing a weekly radio programme on the World Service, Tomchak recalls.
Adapting to her increasingly pressurised media surroundings, she swiftly noted the editorial gaffes to avoid and the proactive traits to adopt once an authoritative role came her way.
“I don’t micro-manage people at Mashable. I had managers in the past in the BBC who were micro-managers and those who were completely the opposite end of the scale. It’s just really down to the individual as to their particular style,” says Tomchak.
Mashable, and by extension, the UK equivalent, is a media and entertainment company. It reports about science, entertainment, technology via the prism of digital culture, and technology is the common thread that binds the sites and their work together.
Of course, legacy media outlets such as RTÉ and BBC have certain policies and standards that must be upheld, particularly by the employees of a state broadcaster. Though these obligations can sometimes restrict journalists from experimenting with their voice and tone on major projects.
“There is a lot of freedom when you work in a new media company like Mashable, to get something done without structure or red tape that naturally comes with a large, public service organisation,” says Tomchak.
Working at such a demanding level in the media is obviously taxing and rewarding, but in the modern journalistic climate that increased workflow is expected of many young journalists. Though, journalism is unique in the sense that networking and the connections you make are essential and often dictate where you might end up next.
“I’ve enjoyed everywhere I’ve worked. I don’t think of them all as being that different. They’ve all been places where I’ve had great opportunities to work with extremely experienced reporters, presenters and editors and build relationships,” says Tomchak.
With the differing styles of Mashable and publicly-funded bodies like BBC, it could be assumed that online media has a broader scope for experimentation and innovation. But since the landscape is shifting so rapidly, the lines between traditional and online media are gradually blurring. And as audience consumption varies, it can lead to publications formulating a specialised role to match readers’ habits.
“People go to each destination for a different reason. People go to Mashable because they are the superfans or the obsessives of this world who want to know all of the extra details.
“But then they might go somewhere like the BBC if they just want to get up to speed on Brexit and go to their Reality Check page to find out what Theresa May has said, and whether or not a certain thing is true about what could happen in the event of Brexit,” Tomchak adds.
Monitoring reader movements and clicks on the web has its benefits from a marketing perspective – catering to audience preferences could increase traffic on the site, subsequently adding to advertising revenue – but is this overreliance on technology hindering journalistic practice and its value system?
“In the past you would have had your TV news editor who would’ve decided which story went to the top of the bulletin. Or the news editor deciding what story went on the front page. It might not just be as one-dimensional, it’s more fragmented. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t make decisions. And you still select stories that you’re going to focus on,” says Tomchak.
So, while journalism is forced to adapt to online media’s constant state of flux, it’s apparent that the traditional role of the journalist – and the editor – still lives on.