Cox Dayton Spawns Print-TV-Digital Reporter
Add to the list of a modern-day journalist’s worries the rise of Jessica Heffner.
In fact, the AMJ is the fastest growing job in a newsroom that brought Cox’s print, television, radio and digital operations into one space and converged workflow back in November 2010. Among the many facets of that experiment, the AMJ may also have the widest ramifications for the profession at large as jobs disappear and individual responsibilities proliferate within newsrooms.
Heffner is trained in mass communications, and began her tenure at Cox on the copy desk of The Dayton Daily News. In the seven short years since that time, she can now shoot, write and edit her own TV packages, deliver fully fleshed out (and differentiated) print versions of those same stories, file a version for radio and deliver an extras-laden online story for which she’s also particularly adept at ginning up engagement and discussion via her Facebook page and Twitter account.
She is matter of fact about her capacities to work in multiple media in an age of convergence. “You can’t just bury your head in the sand and think, ‘Just because I work for a radio station, I don’t have to worry about this,’” she says. “That is going to make you a dinosaur before your time.”
The AMJ’s role is still a work in progress in Dayton, and adaptability is key. “The nature of the job is very fluid, and the workflow itself will reflect that,” says Andy Sedlak, another AMJ. “It changes every day based on the story, the schedule, the location.”
New responsibilities, new tools
Generally speaking, AMJs have seen their newsroom responsibilities reapportioned for depth rather than width. While a typical reporter at Cox’s TV station, WHIO-TV, will produce two daily packages, for instance, an AMJ will focus on one and produce multiple versions of the same story, though that arrangement is subject to constant, circumstantial change.
Sedlak says that upward of 90% of the time, he’ll go solo on stories, equipped with a smartphone and a Panasonic HD P2 camera with which Cox arms each of its AMJs.
(The equipment list for the AMJs includes a video cameras, laptop for editing, tripod and mics. At this time, they are using both the Panasonic AG-HPX170PJ P2 camera and the JVC GYHM650U camera and Dell M6700 laptops with Avid Newscutter editing. When under the gun, the AMJs can also can get video back quickly using their iPhones via Dayton’s Aspera Mobile Uploader server or using the Videolicious video editing app.)
But Heffner says it’s not about being a one-person band all the time.
“It’s a balance,” she says. “The people who struggle with the balance are afraid to ask for help.”
For her, that means drawing on colleagues for collaboration in an ad hoc fashion. Sometimes, that entails rolling over raw information to another reporter who can rough out a print story for her to polish later after she finishes her TV package. Other times, it means finding a staff photographer to help with the shooting and editing if she needs to further source out the print version of a story from the newsroom.
But in the majority of cases where she is working alone, Heffner says, she has changed her approach to workflow to ramp up efficiency, offering a glimpse into what may be more normative for the next generation of journalists.
That starts with note-taking from the field, she says. Gone is the laptop she used to tote around, while now she relies on her camera for all in-person interview content, augmenting it with notes and time codes recorded on her smartphone to expedite her text story.
Even her interview style is more quickly paced. When she was solely a print reporter, Heffner says the average interview ran 20 to 30 minutes, whereas now she trims it down closer to three.
“I zero in on what I need for it,” she says, allowing for exceptions when the emotions or stakes are running higher for her subjects.
Once back in the newsroom, Heffner immediately hits a laptop to start ingesting video (she admits one old-fashioned habit in handwriting her logs). Depending on her deadline, she might tackle her print story first, though she prefers the other way around.
“I like to do my TV story first because as I write that [script] and am editing it, I feel like I’m immersed in the story and know it backwards and forwards by the time I’m done with it,” she says. “From there, I can think of how to tell that story in writing.”