Introduction to Journalism, Media and Communication

Looking Ahead to a Future in Arts Journalism

The profession of journalism can be seen as a way to apprehend the world, as it shapes societal opinion, acts as the fourth estate and is used to reach the goal of justice. (Bernbach 1989) To uphold these expected standards and thrive in the journalism industry, it is imperative that media professionals have a wide array of skillsets across multiple subjects. This notion of endless possibilities is the element of journalism that excites me the most, as writers can branch into a variety of niche disciplines, from fashion to politics, through a range of media platforms like magazines, radio and television. While all of these career pathways sound enticing, the specific field I aim to prosper in is arts journalism, as I am genuinely interested in the content and have extensive experience in the area. The following essay will outline three key topics surrounding journalism, media and communication that all journalists need to conquer, and will focus specifically on achieving a career in arts journalist.

Shaping an Online Identity

Establishing an online identity and brand is integral to enhancing media professionals’, and specifically arts journalists’, chances of embarking on a successful career. During a panel discussion on women in the media, Shelly Cook, the Agency Director for Ikon Communications, mentioned that figuring out your personal identity, being opinionative and projecting your brand confidently is the key to being remembered by potential employers and associates. (Cook 2016) Branding, a term which identifies a journalist with their work and distinguishes them from others in the field, (Tynes 2015) allows future employers to easily recognise an individual’s area of expertise.

It is particularly prevalent that journalists build an online identity for themselves, as with the rapidly changing media landscape arises the concepts of digital convergence and citizen journalism. The profession of print journalism is significantly diminishing as online media thrives with unqualified writers transmitting information and reporting news without authority. (Rogers) As virtually anybody can publicly post their opinions, journalists need to stand out by frequently engaging on social media platforms through interaction with readers: responding to comments, frequently and consistently posting, commenting on other articles, creating relevant content and posing questions to viewers. Another effective way to stand out is by developing an online brand; the best way to project your personal brand is to create a blog tailored to the specific topic you are interested in.

A journalist who implements this technique efficiently is the political forecaster Nate Silver, who owns the blog FiveThirtyEight. A New York Times editor said that rather than searching their database for general information on the upcoming election, the majority of the newspaper’s online readership were searching for Silver’s name, demonstrating that the professional successfully “developed a personal brand that is bigger than the New York Times when it comes to the niche of political forecasting.” (Breiner 2012)

Silver’s success can be attributed to writing skills that every aspiring blogger should take on board. Key points to implement when creating content include: Emphasising unknown information, linking to sources to demonstrate credibility and accuracy, bringing in other sources to act as corroboration, and offering a unique perspective so that “readers take away something of value.”  (Kaufman 2016) It’s also important to write on a large variety of subjects and to maintain a conversation with the audience even after the article is published.

Creating an online blog allows art writers more freedom than if they produced articles for print publications, as there are no restrictions to space or word limit in the online world. (Strahan 2011) As print journalists are offered limited space to present information on the performance or exhibition they are attempting to cover, writers have no option but to construct public relations plugs offering only the vital details of the event. It is for this reason that establishing an online identity becomes even more imperative, as the values of arts journalism are reconfigured in print media when there is no space for quality journalism. Through personal blogging or freelancing for online magazines, writers can return to covering the critical value and redemptive power of the arts, and therefore further develop their brand by incorporating more of their personal opinion. (Elthem 2011)

My own blog is a compilation of articles revolving around creative events and artistic people, which is a clear projection of my brand as an aspiring arts journalist. As a result of shaping my online identity, an independent Australian arts publication named mous magazine allowed me to join their creative team as a contributor. (Read my first article here!) Having establishments in a magazine as a freelance arts journalist is a goal I could not have reached without establishing an online persona and individual brand. Therefore, the importance of shaping an online identity is one of the most important issues a journalist needs to address. I personally need to continue to develop in this area to further my career by consistently publishing content reflecting my interest in the field of arts.

The Importance of Networking and Trustworthiness

Along with establishing a personal brand through an online identity, the ability to network effectively is another element which significantly contributes to a successful career as an arts journalist. Networking is the act of developing a group of acquaintances through which professionals can regularly communicate in order to create mutually benefitting relationships. (WebFinance 2016) According to Neil Harington, the editor of UK’s We’re News, “The ability to compile a network of people you can go to for a story, verify an incident or confirm a rumour is of paramount importance.”  (News Academy)

In order to network effectively, professionals must be able to navigate the new technological world by developing an online presence within a variety of social media platforms, such as Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Additionally, arts journalists must frequently attend events concerning the subjects they are likely to cover, such as festivals, exhibitions, productions and press nights, to develop a deeper cultural understanding and expose themselves to a broader range of artists.

To be an engaging networker, journalists need to exude an aura of confidence, which is something I desperately need to work on. Another key factor of networking is valuing the quality of the connections established rather than the quantity of them: “Put away your business cards, and form genuine friendships with people you meet.” (Entrepreneur 2015) Freelance Brooklyn arts journalist, Lynn Maliszewski, (2011) supports this statement as she writes that “Art writing is actually delightfully interactive. Studio visits and meeting artists to chat about their work is an important and consistent part of my writing process.” Forming closer associates opens the field for recommendations to further links and connections, as a mutual trust is developed.

The executive managing editor of The Times and The Sunday Times, Rob Hands, said “The most important part of a journalist’s relationship with their contacts is trust. If your contacts trust you, there will be greater dividends.” (News Academy) An integral factor of building contacts is to be a reliable and trustworthy source. During a newswriting lecture, Amy Remeikis, the State Political Editor and journalist at the Brisbane Times, wisely said that journalism is a profession built on trust for both sources and the audience. Not only is it illegal to divulge a source without their permission or to include information spoken off the record, it also breaks a moral code of ethics. (Remeikis 2016) It is important that an arts journalist forms a strong sense of trust with their audience, as their writing is primarily opinionative and readers need to firstly have confidence in the writers’ expertise, and secondly recognise that they are not simply reading a public relations promotion.

The risk journalists take when establishing symbiotic relationships with PR people is that arts reviews can easily evolve into arts promotions. While it is vital that journalists network, as it leads to a higher number of valuable sources, professionals need to be wary of the risks involved. A two-week sample of arts journalism in Melbourne newspapers The Age and the Herald Sun found public relations activity at 97% in The Age and 98% in the Herald Sun. (Strahan 2011) This astonishingly massive number is in account of limited space in newspapers, which leads to a surplus of in-depth arts activity in online domains. For this reason, a third issue arts journalists need to respond to in order to progress in their profession is the ability to adapt to a wide variety of platforms.

Adapting to a Multi-Media World

Journalism in the current day and age revolves around live blogging, instant updates and multi-media storytelling aspects, whereas before the digital era journalists needed only to focus on their specific niche topic and platform. With the introduction of digital media, journalists must perform efficiently in a multitude of areas, from writing on a myriad of topics to creating graphs from raw data or sourcing photographs to accompany their articles.

A number of issues arise with this new style of fast-paced journalism, including the necessity of time management, learning how to switch off to avoid potentially working around the clock and being fast while also being credible and using reliable sources. As newsrooms are getting smaller, such as the recent cut of one quarter of the staff from Fairfax offices, (Media Watch, 2016) journalists have to do a wider variety of work themselves. Kate Cox, the managing editor at the Herald Sun, said “You need so many more skills than you used to … You need to be able to put stories online, you need to be able to be on video … You have to be such a multi-faceted person.” (Fairfax Media 2016)

An arts journalist who effectively demonstrates Cox’s definition of a multi-faceted person is Ismene Browne, The Daily Telegraph’s dance critic for 15 years before being made redundant. (Burrel 2010) Rather than applying once more for traditional newspapers, Browne founded an online website called The Arts Desk, as she “felt that the web offered a new and better arena for top-quality arts journalism than the shrinking print media.” (The Arts Desk 2012)  The site sees upwards of 2000 visitors a day and provides a strong income for all 70 of the contributors involved, who write on everything cultural from musical theatre reviews to interviews with musicians. The success owed to an incorporation of digital skills which saw them win an Online Media Award in 2012 for the Best Journalism Specialist Site. (The Arts Desk 2012)

As journalists no longer write for just one unique round, it is important they can adapt to writing for a number of different styles. For example, news copy expects straight-forward reportage while arts journalism requires opinionated comments, as “Subjective and even crusading advocacy … is considered proper practice in coverage of the arts, something that flies in the face of the cool impartiality of the fourth estate.” (Strahan 2011) It is essential to differentiate between styles by considering the needs of the target audience, as news copy requires a serious tone whereas readers of reviews desire a more witty and playful voice. Adapting to a multi-media world, through both writing style and knowledge of digital skills, is a significant skill journalists need to implement to have a progressive career.
Journalists need to possess a strong skillset and understanding of how to overcome a variety of issues in order to be successful in the industry. As an aspiring arts journalist, I have learnt the significance of developing an online identity and projecting a personal brand which focuses on tailored content revolving around artistic events and people. Another topic I need to begin putting into practice by attending creative events is the necessity of networking, as it allows journalists to build reliable sources. With this in mind, professionals must avoid writing PR pieces by focusing on forming quality critiques, while gaining trust from both contacts and their target audience. Adapting to a changing media landscape is a third element all journalists need to employ in their future careers, as writing for online blogs is more effective than writing for print magazines and newspapers. With these three skills in mind, I am looking forward to a progressive future in the field of arts journalism.

Reference List

Bernbach, William. 1989. Quoted in: “KJB102 Introduction to JMC: What is JMC?”  Accessed April 20, 2016.

Breiner, James. 2012. “Why journalists need to brand themselves.” Accessed April 29, 2016.

Burrell, Ian. 2010. “Journalism’s next generation: A new wave of writers are going online to get their message across.” Accessed May 25, 2016.

Elthem, Ben. 2011. “No Surprise Arts Journalism is Languishing.” Accessed May 20, 2016.

Fairfax Media. 2016. “Adapting to a changing newsroom.” Accessed May 25, 2016.   

Kaufman, King. 2016. “How to Blog like a Journalist.” Accessed May 28, 2016.

Maliszewsk, Lynn. 2011. “How to Be a Freelance Arts Writer.” Accessed May 20, 2016.

Media Watch. 2016. “Fairfax Cuts to the Bone.” Accessed May 25, 2016.

News Academy. “Build Up Contacts.” Accessed May 20, 2016.

Strahan, Lucinda. 2011. “How PR became the art of imitating the art of journalism.” Accessed May 25, 2016.

The Arts Desk. 2012. “The Arts Desk wins Best Specialist Journalism Site of 2012.” Accessed May 25, 2016.

Tynes, Natasha. 2015. “Tips and Tools for Journalists to Brand Themselves.” Accessed May 25, 2016.