Michelle Atagana is the managing editor of Memeburn and an influential Tweeter. Her Masters Degree in New Media and Journalism is accompanied by a fascinating thesis that focuses on her passion for social media technologies in the South African journalistic space. We chat to Michelle about journalistic trends, the mythical ‘need’ for blogs, and the comparisons when writing for online versus print.
Hi Michelle. Do you think it is necessary or important for a journalist to have a blog too?
I am not sure if I would call it a necessity, yes it would be nice for a journalist to be able to find other ways to express themselves through writing that isn’t ‘work’, but the reality is very different. As journalists we write so much content on a day-to-day basis that getting time to actually keep a blog going is a little tricky, just ask my neglected blog.
In your opinion, what is the biggest change in information distribution since the digital age?
Aside from the fact that is has become insanely easy to share information? I suppose the obvious answer is social and mobile. Thanks to social I can distribute content quicker. What online did was make media ownership easier for people with dedication and drive but not necessarily the funds to own and run publications. Now not only can we publish a story quickly we can live tweet events from our mobile devices to our audiences before we get to a computer to write up the full story. They get the information on the go. Social and mobile are big changes.
What are your thoughts on paywalls?
A paywall isn’t a bad idea; it’s just not particularly a good one either. The problem with paywalls is that we as publishers did a bad thing in the beginning, because 20 years ago we said to people that if it was online it is free and we have created a mentality around that. Now we want to ask those people to pay for content that they have enjoyed as free before now, just because the online advertising model just isn’t working the way we want it to? Think about that for a moment, what would you do? Easy; you’ll find ways to get that content for free. So it may be necessary because online journalists still need to get paid, but let’s face it, people prefer free stuff. But there are the few who will pay the wall.
Will traditional print journalism dissolve away as digital continues to grow?
Oh I think ‘dead-tree’ journalism will be around for a while. People are so eager to announce the death of a medium just because a new one is gaining traction. Look, when TV came about people where convinced that radio was going to die. Did it? No, it adapted and met people where they preferred. And many people still listen to radios away from their cars. As for print it may become a more luxury item but I highly doubt it will die out. When we live in Spielberg’s Minority Report future and we have digital paper, perhaps then we can give the Rain Forest a break.
What journalistic trends have caught your eye overseas that have yet to evolve in Africa?
I think we are pretty caught up here as far as trends go. I do think sometimes as a journalist, and this is everywhere, we could do with some more bravery, and report the news without fear of being fear of political correctness. But I have been watching too many episodes of The Newsroom and journalism isn’t really like that.
What do you find to be the biggest difference between writing for digital and writing for print?
When you write for print you have a beginning, middle and an end. When you write for online you have a beginning and middle; the end is up to the reader. Because the nature of online is so interactive and readers will call you out in the comments because that is their job and right, you have to leave the story almost open because it’s about conversation, unlike print when it’s more about information.
Lastly, if you were stuck in a lift with two people, who would you hope they’d be and what would you be dying to ask them?
Hmm tricky because I’d actually rather not, as I am claustrophobic. However I am dying to interview Sir Tim Berners-Lee. Yes, I am ambitious in my dreams. I would like to pick his brain about where we are with innovation and where we are headed and how the web experience will evolve. Also I would love to talk to Malcolm Gladwell, mostly to say thank you, because thanks to his New Yorker columns my journalistic dream were born some 15 years ago.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Michelle.