If you want to be a journalist, you must go back to the basics, good writing and strong storytelling. And it wouldn’t hurt to be aware of how technology changes the way you can tell that story, says Jeff Houck, who has the interesting title of Leisure Team Leader at the Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida. Houck spoke Monday, January 26th, at Belmont University as part of the university’s New Century Journalism Speaker’s Series. About 70 administrators, students, staff and journalists filled the Bunch Multimedia Hall on the second floor of the University Library to listen and learn as Houck shared concrete examples of convergence in practice and his firsthand experiences.
Leisure Team Editor is a new age title for an assistant features editor – Houck is responsible for editing the paper’s health, family, food, teen and travel coverage. He works at the Tampa News Center owned by Media General which houses, the Tampa Tribune, WFLA-TV, the NBC affiliate, and tbo.com. It’s a converged news operation where the employees of the three media outlets work independently and collectively to cover the news. So it is perfectly normal for Houck to make occasional appearances on WFLA-TV.
A journalist who has “the wider variety of skills will be in a better position to capitalize on opportunities,” Houck advised his audience. “I didn’t code HTML (hypertext markup language). I didn’t make web pages. I did shoot digital pictures. The bottom line is that I know how to write. The only way I gained experience was by doing it.” Houck says he is not compensated for his added responsibilities but the experience is invaluable. He also mentioned that keeping up with the learning curve should increase job security.
He discussed a multimedia investigation involving a Pentecostal church in Florida that was triggered when the church van crashed killing a 14 year old. Because three media platforms operate under one roof, a four minute story ran on WFLA on several nights, a lengthy series ran in the newspaper and more in-depth information could be found online from marriage documents to a crash diagram. Further, in addition to all of the other information, entire unedited interviews could be found at on the tbo.com website.
The audience took note when Houck showed footage of the print, online and broadcast reporters from the Tampa News Center all involved in an interview with the minister of the church. Another element of the website allowed the audience to get involved by sharing their thoughts and reading the comments posted online from other people. To add authenticity to the website, the names, dates and times the entries were posted are visible.
Houck believes the multimedia presentation adds credibility to journalism. “Offering unedited information, documents, and video is another avenue for fairness and balance. And making an emotional connection by allowing the audience to participate in the process strengthens the stories.”
As for the Tampa News Center, Houck says the converged media operation is profitable. “We’re making money. We sell advertising in package deals on the web, through television spots and ads in print.” As a result, “we are able to push ahead.” In other words, they can push viewers, readers and web surfers across media platforms. To cut cost, “we don’t have as many people. We have automated functions to save money.”
Houck also noted that the tbo.com website is a money maker. “I pay 70 dollars a year for the Wall Street Journal. If I can find something that will give me value, I’ll pay for it.” In a nutshell that is the challenge for media outlets across the country, to give their audience a reason to consume the news.
Belmont University’s New Century Journalism Program is committed to preparing future journalists for the modern multi-media era of news. For more information about the speaker’s series or the program, please call 615-460-6451, or see the Speaker’s Series website.