By Melanie Heyns

The world of journalism has changed rapidly over the years, with newspapers, magazines and broadcast media all becoming available on the internet. News is constantly flowing through numerous channels, and is sometimes published or broadcast before it can be verified. People are hit by conflicting bits of impractical information and have to sort for themselves, what is real and what is forged.

The way in which the media and journalists work has been altered, but the ethical rules have stayed the same. Previously, journalism was built on trust between journalists and their readers/viewers, but with the world constantly demanding immediate news and instant gratification, some journalism rules may have slipped a little. To cope with the ‘instant gratification’ need of the public, journalists need to do so much more than ever before.

I recently spoke to Nadia van der Merwe, a journalism lecturer at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), about new media journalists and how they possible differ from previous journalism graduates. She said, “Although new media journalists might need a unique skills set, it is possible to argue that within the current media environment, all journalists have to be multi-skilled with at least some understanding of the new media environment, new media tools and the online audience.”

Kathryn McConnachie studied new media journalism at Rhodes University and is now the digital media editor at ITWeb. She adds, “In the modern day news and media environment, I think it can be quite crippling to only be proficient in one medium. With the majority of publications today recognising the need for an online presence, the demands on the journalists have changed – editors - need journalists who offer all the necessary skills in one package. You are more likely to get hired if you can tell a story through multiple mediums and cater for multiple platforms.”

When asked how the journalism curriculum is taught at UJ today, Van der Merwe explained, “At UJ, the focus is on news journalism within the different contexts: print, electronic and online. Students are trained in the basic writing and editing skills as well as more specialised skills as required by the specific medium.”

New -media skills are thus clearly the way forward, and are fast becoming a larger part of journalism courses at colleges, universities and various other teaching industries. Teaching new - media courses, however, is a brave new world as technology and the thinking behind it is a fast paced and ever-changing setting. On incorporating new media into the curriculum, Van der Merwe explains, “On the new media side, students are encouraged to blog, create photo galleries and online clips and craft stories specifically for an online publication and audience.”

McConnachie adds, “I suppose traditional journalists learn news writing, feature writing [and so on], while a new media journalist learns all of those things but then also how to optimise a story for the online environment and to cater specifically for that. Media is no longer a linear, one-way type of communication. It's immediate, interactive and dialogical and all of those things that it could never be when it was limited to [one medium].”

For Van der Merwe, however, the most important focuses are still on basic writing and editing skills, therefore, there is not necessarily a big difference between current and previously graduated journalists.

That said,journalists of today are now faced with many more challenges due to the different landscapes and mediums through which news can be provided to the public. “I think any journalist working today needs to understand the difference between an online article and a print article, as well as the different story-telling mechanisms that the platforms offer. I feel like new media gave me a thorough understanding of where journalism is heading and how to best leverage the possibilities opened up by online – including - social media tools and multimedia integration. It equipped me with the skills to be able to judge which medium is best suited to any given story -– be it live tweets, a written article, a video, podcast, slideshow or a combination of those.” says McConnachie.

So there you have it. What do you think of the world of new media and what it has to offer the journalist of today? Do you feel you have all the skills needed to adapt to the new media landscape? Leave your comment on our blog.