A look at journalism through the changes of technology
I asked journalism veteran and Folio Weekly Editor Denise Reagan about what it was like growing up as a journalist through an explosion of technology. Here's what she had to say in our Q & A session.
CRISTI: Can you tell me a bit about what the technology was like when you first began writing and reporting?

DENISE: When I was at The Alligator in college, there was no email. We were on computers obviously but they were more like word processors. basically a better way to type. We were designing in Quark but still had to print it out onto paper, and we didn't have a large format printer so we were tiling pages. We had to print out four pages and paste them down and match them up. We still shot photos in such a way that you had to crop them by hand and use Exactoblades.

CRISTI: But then things began to change.

DENISE: When it all of the sudden took off I was at my first job. We could print a whole page at a time there because we had large format printers. but we were still hand dummying things on paper. We could have only one color element on the page at a time. Then we moved to digital files of analog pictures. It seems like a blink of an eye from then to the first digital files. A one megapixel image was huge to us at that time. Then suddenly you had 2 mgpx and four. And we were going like, "Wow!" We were evolving through all these forms of data storage from floppy disks to these things called jazz drives and suddenly you had all these gigantic digital files. It was incredible.

CRISTI: Technology has always been on this general upward slope of improvement, but at that point in time do you think you were really aware of just how rapidly that slope was about to increase?

DENISE: I sensed it because very quickly the file sizes were getting bigger and bigger. You know, the storage was such an issue at first but now all the space is cheaper than it ever has been. And that's also because files are bigger than they ever have been...althogh now the cloud is the solution [doubtfully makes air quotes].

CRISTI: In your opinion, what has been the type of reporting event that has benefitted the most from this sudden surge in technology?

DENISE: Definitely war. From my first job when I was designing the front page of the Persian Golf War when they'd send you a cyan, magenta, yellow and black layer and you'd have to get it all combined in pictures. Take that and flash-forward all the way to the Iraq War. It used to be so government censored, so we didn't have a lot of access. What was truly amazing about the Iraq war was that you were really getting to see that people were truly embedded, and not jsut the way the government wanted them to be embedded but really covering thier own stories.

CRISTI: Do you see media technology growing at an even faster rate, or do you think it's beginning to or bound to plateau?

DENISE:It's hard to imagine it getting any faster. Social media was the big game changer. Digital media happened but then it was the early days of the Internet and it was like, okay, we'll publish the stories that are on the paper.

CRISTI: Can you tell me how you came to be where you are now at Folio Weekly, and how you've updated the publication to reflect media technology today?

DENISE: I'm at a place that used to be very print focused. Our website was hand cocded and there was no content management system to it, so it was a nightmare. And only one person in the whole building who knew how to do it. And as for their social media, they use to post only once a week or so. Now we have 6 or 7 blogs that are published multiple times a week. Our print philosopy was preview oriented, but now that we have a website we do post stuff where we review shows and do things after the fact. We have a lot of photos, which is only limited by how many poeple we can get to cover a certain event. We depend very much on interns and like to give them a variety of options.

CRISTI: Do you ever feel like all this social media maintenance that now comes with the territory isn't exactly what you bargained for when you became a journalist? Does that annoy you or excite you?

DENISE: I definitely drank the KoolAid a lot earlier than a lot of people. I like to try new things out. It's a full time job doing social media if you do it right. It's an extension of your brand. And the most important thing is that you've gotta be at the place where they already are. All these social media sites, at the end of the day, are publishing channels and you've got to do it well if you want your stuff to be read. You could just write the headlines already on the story but you what you really need to do is find little nuggets to make that story irresistible to click on. A big part of my job now is trying to be clever dozens of times a day. And there are days when I feel like, "What the Hell did I Do today?" One part of it is extending your brand but the other part is developing meaningful interactions with your followers and nurturing it into a conversation in which you gain followers.

CRISTI: How do you think all of this technology has affected your own reporting?

DENISE:The feedback is instant. That like button or that comment button and the share button and the retweet button, and you ultimately find yourself judging yourself. Like oh, was that good enough? Did it go viral? Are people commenting on it? It's like lightening in a bottle. Before we assumed that people just read what we put out there but now we have a way of measuring it. So in a way I think that makes us better reporters. Still, if you're not doing everything you can to put that journalism out there in front of people, then it's like putting up your lemonade stand and expecting people to come. But no one really has it completely figured out yet.

CRISTI: What advice would you give to today's young journalists growing up in a highly technological era?

DENISE:It would be that you need to be in a constant state of readiness to learn. Your job will be about learning for the rest of your life. Because the world is so digitized, all these new devices follow similar types of logic to figure out. And most of what you learn will be based on what you learned before. Journalism has always been about being ready to learn about any topic on a moment's notice and then conveying it to other people without using any jargon. And how you're going to do that will change. Maybe 20 years ago it meant that you used one set of tools and now you use these. That's what it's all about - change and adapting to change.

Before you go, check out this Scientific American article on how to break into science writing using your blog and social media
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