What is a journalist these days?

The first dance. Did a journalist take this photo?

The first dance. Did a journalist take this photo?

Here’s a thought experiment: What is a journalist?

It used to be a pretty simple question. To be a journalist, you had to work for, well, a journal. A newspaper or magazine, certainly. Print people might grudgingly concede that television and radio journalists qualified. Everyone else? Not journalists. Well, maybe a freelancer or two. But that was it.

But now, in the Internet era, we know that definition has changed. But to what? If Facebook, Twitter and Instagram count as megaphones, and they do, does that mean anyone Facebooking, Tweeting or Instagramming is a journalist? At least maybe a “citzen-journalist” (whatever that means, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Here’s what brings this to mind. Over the weekend, I attended my nephew’s wedding. Lovely affair.

It’s also the sort of affair where the minister advises people at the beginning of the ceremony to silence their cellphones.

But as soon as the vows were said, the phones were back out and pictures were being taken. Naturally, I took my share through the evening (and it was a long evening — dinner, dancing, the works). At one point, a colleague asked me via Facebook: “Does your nephew know you’ve been facebooking his wedding? You have wall to wall coverage recorded for all time.”

To which I replied: “Observation: There were eight people at our table. At one point seven of them were on their phones. During the dancing, some people were shooting video from their phones and posting that. I may have actually been showing restraint by comparison.”

All of which was true. Each one of us was pumping out news and photos to our respective social media channels, from the middle-school girl across the table to the nearly 60-year-old woman at my right. So were we all journalists?

I think in many ways we all were. So if that’s case . . . where does that lead us? What are the opportunities?

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Keynote speaker at Media Day at Bluefield College

Dwayne Yancey speaking at Media Day at Bluefield College. Photo courtesy of Bluefield College.

Dwayne Yancey speaking at Media Day at Bluefield College. Photo courtesy of Bluefield College.

I was the keynote speaker at Media Day at Bluefield College in Bluefield, Virginia on April 23, 2013. I told the students, faculty and media members that now is actually a great time to get into the news business, because all the old rules are changing, the new rules have yet to be written and those who join now will be able to help write them.

Here’s what Bluefield College sent out about the event:

Bluefield College paid tribute to the work of local journalists during its 14th Annual Media Appreciation Day, April 23, which featured remarks from Roanoke Timessenior editor Dwayne Yancey and the presentation of a $1,000 award for excellence in media.
Since 2000, Bluefield College has hosted the area’s media professionals on campus for a luncheon, keynote address and media-student roundtable, all part of Media Appreciation Day. The event, according to BC officials, is designed to “recognize area media representatives for their efforts in promoting Bluefield College and serving the community.”
“We want you to know how important you are not only to Bluefield College, but the community at-large,” BC public relations director Chris Shoemaker told the 30 journalists in attendance. “We’re grateful for the ways in which you share our story – our news, our activities, our accomplishments, and our hopes and dreams – but even more appreciate of the greater role you play in informing and educating the public at-large.”
As part of the recognition for the day, the college presented two Shott Excellence-in-Media Awards, made possible by the generosity of media entrepreneur Michael Shott and his North Point Foundation in an effort to help preserve the legacy of the Shott family who pioneered the presence of news media in the Bluefield area.
The Shott Excellence-in-Media Journalist Award, determined by votes from the local media and featuring a $1,000 cash prize for the journalist who demonstrates excellence in his or her vocation and who makes a significant contribution to the local community, went to longtime Bluefield Daily Telegraph senior editor Bill Archer, who outshined 20 other nominees from 10 different organizations.
“He is a journalist who cares deeply about the communities and the people of this region,” said Shoemaker, who helped James ‘Smokey’ Shott present the Excellence Awards. “No story is too big or too small. He will cover a small-town festival with the same zeal and enthusiasm as major, breaking news events.”
Archer, winner of a variety of awards for excellence in writing from the West Virginia Press Association, began his journalism career in 1986 with the local weekly newspaper The Twin State News Observer. He became executive editor of that publication before joining the staff of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in 1992, where he has remained for the past two decades. A pillar in the community with more than 30 years of service and civic engagement, Archer is also a historian and author, having published nine pictorial histories of communities in theregion.
“He is perhaps the best-known journalist in this area,” Shoemaker read from the nominations for Archer, “thanks to his dedication to the idea that it is his job to inform, entertain and inspire his readers, all while being a vital part of the region he serves.”
The Shott Excellence-in-Media Student Award, featuring a $1,000 scholarship and designed to recognize a current BC communications student who demonstrates excellence in the classroom and in his or her extracurricular communications activities, went to senior Angi Highlander of Hampton, Virginia. Lauded by her professors who nominated her for the award for her leadership, work ethic, versatility, communication skills and service to others, Highlander was described as a “great writer,” “very good graphic designer” and “exceptional oral communicator.”
“She brings to every class she takes an unabridged commitment to excel,” Shoemaker read from the nominations for Highlander. “She projects a delight in learning and graciously shares this enthusiasm with everyone around her.”
Outside of the classroom, Highlander completed two public relations internships, captained the women’s volleyball team, served as a resident assistant, sang with two BC select student voice ensembles, taught abstinence to high school students, and functioned as a personal aid for a handicapped student at BC.
“She is genuinely devoted to serving others,” said Shoemaker, “and poised to use all of her skills to make important and lasting contributions in the world.”
BC’s Media Day program also included a keynote speech from Yancey, a 33-year veteran of the industry, who now serves as senior editor for new channels at the Roanoke Times. Involved with a variety of new ventures to deliver news across multiple platforms, Yancey spoke to his colleagues about a changing media industry, revolutionized by technology and social media.
“We are in an era where all the old rules are giving way, so my advice is to be prepared for the maximum amount of change,” Yancey told his fellow journalists. “Smartphones, web service and around-the-clock breaking news cycles have created audiences accustomed to getting live news any time and anywhere they want it. It’s one of those great transition periods in history where everything seems to change so quickly — be it the Industrial Revolution, the Renaissance, or the end of the dinosaurs. Exciting to look back on, but sometimes very confusing when you’re in the middle of it.”
Despite the industry’s rapid change, declining revenue and increasingly competitive environment, Yancey told BC’s aspiring journalists to be encouraged about their prospects for success.
“It’s a great time to get into the industry,” said Yancey, who also supervises five niche publications for the Roanoke Times, “because everything is changing. Rules are being rewritten, and you, unlike those in the industry today, will not be encumbered by the idea that ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’”
BC’s Media Appreciation Day also included a roundtable discussion between members of the media and BC communication students. During the roundtable, the students asked for advice about “getting (their) foot in the door” and “reporting controversial news,” among other topics. The journalists also discussed how best to prepare for a career in journalism, the advantages of diversifying your skills, the competitiveness of the industry, and audiences’ demand for sensational news, among other issues.