Once upon a time, a reporter’s desk wasn’t complete without a bottle of gin in the drawer. Today, most journalists take their work a little more seriously, but a lot of them don’t have desks. One thing that’s never changed is the need to meet with sources and keep up with the latest industry trends, and for more than a century, the National Press Club (NPC) has served as a meeting center, networking hub and home away from home for members of the 4th Estate. From the age of William Randolph Hearst to the advent of Twitter, the NPC has provided a support system for the men and women reporting the news.
The NPC has also become known as “The Place Where News Happens,” thanks to the global leaders in every field who stop by the club’s Washington, DC headquarters to meet with reporters and give formal talks. Recent speakers have been as diverse as Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend from The Who, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Upcoming speakers include Mariska Hargitay, star of Law and Order SVU and founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, John H. Noseworthy, M.D., President and CEO of the Mayo Clinic, Ken Burns, Documentary Filmmaker, and R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy.
In keeping with this month’s theme of the 4th Estate and our search to meet today’s press, the Collaborative Services blog spoke with NPC President Angela Greiling Keane about the role the club plays during this transitional time for the press. What values should journalists hold onto, and which ones do they need to let go? How can they continue to hone their skills and use good practices without the backing of a major paper or news organization? If it concerns reporters, it concerns the National Press Club. The organization is that rare thing – a venerable institution that has embraced change, and in doing so hopes to be around for the next hundred years of news.
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The National Press Club has been in place for more than a century and hosted a variety of speakers on many different topics. Who have been some of the most famous visitors, and which speakers or topics have drawn the highest attendance?
The NPC is in its 106th year, so we’ve hosted thousands of guests at our marquee luncheon speakers series and at our many other events over the years. In the past few months, we’ve had sellout crowds for musicians James Taylor and Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who. Looking to the past, our first luncheon speaker was then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932. We’ve also been proud to host Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher and Barack Obama when he was a new U.S. senator.
According to your website, the National Press Club’s mission is to be the World’s Leading Professional Organization for Journalists. How is the organization working to fulfill this mission?
With the changing profession of journalism and budget cuts in many newsrooms, the Press Club plays an increasingly important role in training journalists to do their jobs well. The National Press Club Journalism Institute, our affiliated 501c3, coordinates our journalism training and has a successful series on using social media as a reporter and using social media to report. Another series focuses on “data diving,” or using databases from sources including the federal government for stories. This year, we have a special focus on mid-career journalists and helping them make sure they have the skills they need to thrive in their current jobs or be ready for the search for the next one. We’re continuing our annual day-long journalism “boot camp” this spring, bringing NPC members and other journalists together on a Saturday to focus on perfecting our skills and to have a lot of fun while we do that.
How have you seen the 4th Estate change in recent years and how have journalists had to adapt to stay current in their profession?
In the past 15 years alone, journalism has changed light years. Readers of print news have gone from reading primarily tangible newspapers and magazines to consuming their news online via websites or on tablets through digital editions of newspapers and magazines. Revenue models based on advertising have had to change along with the demands of readers. There’s also been a lot more diversification of media with the rise of cable TV channels, websites and blogs. Those changes have manifested themselves in there being fewer reporters covering specialized beats for traditional media while there’s been an increase in reporters covering things like politics in Washington. In addition to seeing beats broaden or scrums increase in size, many journalists today work in a 24/7 news cycle. Journalists still have deadlines, but just because you meet a deadline doesn’t mean your work is done for the day. Many journalists today are also expected to be jacks of all trades. They must take or record notes, record video of the event or speech, send Tweets or other headlines and write a full story too. Oh, and of course, every journalist is supposed to get the news out before his or her competitors. That hasn’t changed.
How does the National Press Club assist and prepare journalists in such a rapidly changing field?
The National Press Club was founded as a social club – well, really, a drinking club. We still assist journalists as a place to socialize, and being a gathering place is an important part of who we are still today. One of the club’s functions is to facilitate networking among our members, so we host regular networking events in addition to the informal opportunities our members have to connect with each other. We’ve also found that an increasing number of our members no longer work in offices, either because their employers closed their physical bureaus or because they are now freelancing rather than being on staff at a news outlet. We provide work space, wireless internet, places to meet with sources or clients and the ever-important coffee for members who use the club as their downtown office.
Do you believe the emergence of social media has helped or hurt the journalism industry?
It’s definitely changed it, but I think that’s mostly for the good. Social media is another way of disseminating information, and while some people may only consume news via social media, it’s my hope that it wets people’s appetites for more thorough news from news outlets. Social media provides another way for journalists to promote themselves and their work and to build their own brand.
We have seen the print industry decline and online media sources rise and gain more traction in recent years. Can the print industry be saved? If so how?
I don’t think print media is going away yet. Obviously giving away news content on the web for many years while expecting consumers to still pay for print content was a mistake, but more news outlets are finding ways to get some revenue from subscriptions on their websites. Newspapers of tomorrow won’t necessarily look like those of today, but there will be a place for value-added journalism even if readers aren’t getting all their breaking news from the front pages like they used to.
In many ways technology has revolutionized the 4th Estate. But, has it also played a part in compromising ethics in journalism? How can journalists and media outlets continue to maintain trust with their readers, viewers, and listeners?
Journalism ethics and accurate reporting are critically important to our profession. When one reporter plagiarizes or fabricates a source, it reflects badly on the entire industry. Ethics breaches are not the creation of technology today, but the ability to file from anywhere certainly has come into play in some of the more recent journalism scandals. News organizations need to hold their reporters to high standards and investigate any inconsistencies or reports of untruthfulness in stories. Journalism schools play a part in making sure their students have ethics courses and understand the rules of the game.
Can you name any stories that were broken by new media sources that may have flown under the radar of the traditional media? Why do you think this is?
While I’m sure there are many good examples, the point I’d like to say on this is that for many years, stories have been broken by small news outlets – trade magazines and so forth – that have gone unnoticed by the traditional media. I think that’s one dynamic in journalism that has not changed.
What advice do you have for aspiring journalists?
Learn how to write well. Writing is only part of being a journalist, but if your spelling or grammar are sub-par, you won’t get far. Practice writing concisely. Conveying your message clearly is important in all mediums of journalism. Practice thinking of questions and framing how to ask them. Being curious goes a long way, but knowing how to ask questions to get the answers you need is another key skill worth practicing early on. Don’t be afraid to start small. Everyone wants to start at the biggest news outlets in the biggest markets, but being a big fish in a smaller pond has its merits too.
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Thank you Ms. Greiling Keane for sharing your insights on the rapidly changing 4th Estate and what it takes for a journalist to become a “jack of all trades”. It is great to know that the National Press Club continues to provide support, training opportunities, or just a cup of coffee to all journalists working hard to keep up.
The Collaborative Services Blog Team