With the introduction of computers and digital resources into the newsroom, the media landscape changed. It did not just open up into a multi-format crossover industry whilst demanding a broader variety of general journalistic skills, but alongside requires in contradiction a higher degree of expertise and in depth knowledge of the reporters, too.
The Internet in particular now allows the public to self-educate itself to a far higher degree, with users hardly paying for information provided and cross referenced on the web.
This development is still highly debated in the journalism industry, with job cuts resulting from swindling paper sales and loss of advertising.
Specialisation of journalists could be one way out of the crisis in the media industry. In contrast to the newspaper industry, most magazines did not suffer, but have benefited from the digital revolution according to the Periodical Publishers Association. Toby Hicks, Senior Communications Executive, states: Since the rise of the Internet in 1995, sales numbers have actually increased by 62%.
But increased expertise did not just result out of the digital revolution, it was a natural development in the media. Editorial tasks and responsibilities have to be logistically distributed to individuals somehow, and a distribution alongside topics and interests has always ensured regular, responsible and reliable up-to-date coverage.
For example in this week’s Media Guardian, Peter Wilby tells the history and development of the once popular but now oblivious Labour correspondents, whose stories are at present covered by journalists in the Business and Financial sector.
Despite Peter Wilby arguing that there would be a growing tendency on all papers to devalue specialist knowledge, freelance journalists discovered that a higher degree of expertise improved their business and defied the cut-backs in general reporting whilst opening up new employment opportunities.
In her book “Ready, Aim, Specialize!”, Kelly James-Enger argues for increased expertise, mainly because of better efficiency and productivity levels.
Specialised reporters share the enthusiasm and passion for the topic with the readers, says Kelly James-Enger. Because of their own hands-on experience, they can easily include practical and pragmatic tips and real life advice; pepper their articles with funny and lively anecdotes, and ensure that their stories are more up-to-date, accurate and diverse.
They have plenty of valuable contacts in their area including sources with a variety of different angles and views.
Former Editor Paul Taylor supports the statement:
“At the Burngreave Messenger in Sheffield, one of our journalists specialised in writing stories concerned with drugs, crime, race relations and the police. Before he worked for the paper he had been involved in that ‘world’. He therefore had better contacts and ‘ins’ to stories we would have not been able to report as well as we did.”
But. most important of all is the ability to defy the hype of press releases, spin doctors, politicians and PR representatives. Without them, the public would be lost in jargon and lead astray in complicated topics. A misinterpretation of relevancy, especially in the fields of health, international relations and science could lead to a mass public panic or to unjustified war; such as for example the 45-Minutes claim of Weapons of Mass Destruction lead to the War in Iraq.