In Journalism, How Much Do Titles Matter?

by on Aug.17, 2011, under What's New

A story written for the Society of Professional Journalists’ Generation J committee and the Radio Television Digital News Association:

Aug 17 2011
By Lynn Walsh, RTDNA Blogger & SPJ Generation J Committee Head

Are you a multimedia journalist or a video journalist? Or are you a multimedia producer? Or maybe you consider yourself a digital journalist?

As the technology in the newsroom continues to change, the responsibilities of each person in the newsroom is also changing.

A reporter may now also be considered a photographer, an editor, a web producer, etc. More and more of us do more than just write stories or make the phone calls and do the research for the stories. We are also responsible for taking the pictures, shooting video, creating an online story and more, all while still reporting.

So, what does that mean for you? What do you list your title as on social media sites, your business cards, etc.?

These questions have been raised several times at conferences and during discussions with journalists and it made me think, does the title you use matter? Specifically, does it matter while you are applying for jobs?

After raising those questions to several people who are currently in hiring position or have been in the past, the consensus was that the title you are using is not as important as the work you are doing.

“Titles never meant anything to me,” Julie Lane said. She said, she wants to know “what experience a candidate had and how adept was that person in handling his or her responsibilities.” Lane is not currently in a position to hire journalists, she said, but has been in the past.

“The days of pigeon-holing someone into an ‘XYZ’ title are gone,” Patricia Edwards, an editor and publisher in North Carolina said. “In this day and age, the title ‘journalist’ encompasses so much more than it did when I got into the business. I am a journalist by profession but have worked as a reporter, photographer, editor, publisher. And given the current trend in reporting the news, you really have to be a ‘Jane of All Trades,’” she said.

The need to be a “Jane (or Jack) of all Trades,” is what journalism schools are preparing us to be and it is why, I think, we wonder what to call ourselves.

“I do think in today’s market, having experience that goes beyond one medium is important,” Lane said. “You may be a newspaper reporter, but are likely expected to write for the paper’s website and to provide still photography, video clips and slide shows for the web.”

So, when you have all of that experience and you want to market yourself accordingly, what title do you use? I posed this question to members of the SPJ Generation J committee.

“Newscast Producer,” committee member Mike Brannen said. Brannen works at a television station in Seattle, Washington where he produces the station’s morning newscast. “We have web editors, and by title I would call our reporters our journalists (even though producers take part),” he wrote in an e-mail.

Nathaniel Miller, also an SPJ Generation J committee member, lists himself as an “online content developer,” on business cards. “It’s the official title here,” he said. Miller works at the Sacramento Bee newspaper in California.

“Although, I’m a producer,” he said and “overall, it’s best to describe myself as an editor. That’s a technically correct answer, considering I’m the online editor on Sundays. But it’s not entirely correct. Web producer with editor responsibilities is probably the most exact.”

“I think now the definition of ‘(Title) Journalist’ is applicable to the folks utilizing social media more than the ones on the traditional platforms,” Brannen said.

For employers, Miller said he would also use the title “editor” because “that would grab their attention.”

I list my title as an “investigative multimedia journalist.” For me, I have decided to add “investigative” because it shows a niche or area of news that I am experienced in. That said, I would probably drop the word if I was applying to a general assignment reporter position.

I chose “multimedia” over “digital” or “video” because I like and want to continue to do more than just video editing and I think the word “multimedia” encompasses more of my skills than “digital.” But, I think those two words may be more interchangeable, than others.

Bob Beyette, a longtime reporter and news manager in Athens, Ohio believes the word “multimedia” says a reporter does more. “‘Digital’ says to me that they only work on the Internet,” he said. Beyette is also a professor at Ohio University.

As for choosing ‘journalist’ over ‘reporter,’ I again believe it encompasses more. I want people to see my title and think that I do more than report, which we probably all do and it may be assumed, but I think by saying ‘journalist’ I am telling people that I want to continue to be a reporter, a producer, an editor, etc. I don’t just want to produce or just report, I want to do a little bit of both.

“I wouldn’t put ‘radio’ reporter on my business card, so I don’t think I would put ‘multimedia’ or ‘digital’ on that,” Beyette said. For Beyette, the most important word is ‘reporter.’

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