Enhancing your story with digital media

by Joey Butler

John Blake (photo by George Conklin)

John Blake, who writes about race and religion for CNN, is an old-school print journalist who “remembers what it’s like to cover a boring city council meeting.”

In his workshop, Blake identified three major changes that transitioning to digital media has brought to his role as a journalist.

First is all the “bells and whistles” he now has at his disposal. Instead of the traditional treatment of a print story with a photo or two, Blake can tell his story with video, sound bytes and links to supplemental material. While he considers himself lucky to work for a large organization where each of those elements might be overseen by a different staffer, Blake cautioned those in a “one-man band” situation not to focus too much on the tech toys at the expense of the story.

Second, social media has created all sorts of “minefields” for journalists and has made them potential targets for readers with an axe to grind, or who may want to retaliate over something they wrote.

“Journalists want to be able to speak the truth and engage with their readers, but there are pitfalls now. A journalist should never have to fear who their reporting may offend.”

Third is the growing sense of tribalism Blake has observed. “We’ve lost the ability to dialogue,” he said. “Religion is already an emotional topic, but there are people now who won’t even take your call if they think you don’t share their views.”

But Blake said when subjects who don’t share his views agree to talk, those can be the most rewarding. He enjoys learning from people with a different perspective.

“Writing about religion has changed my faith,” Blake said. “The topics challenge you and make you think about your own beliefs.”

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