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The field of journalism is rapidly changing, and Rider alumni have evolved with it.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When the second round of buyouts occurred at his newspaper two years ago, Martin Griff ’79 joined LinkedIn. But he was not looking for a new job.

While the news staff where he works began to shrink, Griff only wanted to see what the professional networking site was all about. So, he created a profile that identified him as a “Traditional media dinosaur – still holding on at The Times of Trenton!” Since graduating from Rider with a degree in Journalism, Griff has spent almost his entire career as a photographer for The Times. Through the years, he has seen the newspaper industry morph from a seemingly glamorous profession into one struggling to maintain readers, and the advertising revenue they bring.

Like Griff, Jeff Edelstein ’95, a columnist at The Trentonian, has spent most of his career in the newspaper industry. In a relatively short time, Edelstein has seen his role as a reporter, then columnist, become a much more interactive experience, freely soliciting ideas and news tips from readers and those who follow him and The Trentonian through social media.

“The field is changing daily,” he explained. “Media companies are reacting. Now is not the time to react. They need to be proactive.”

As a result of the Internet and evolving technologies, the power is now in the hands of the consumer, who can access and share the news on their mobile devices and social networks. According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism in its 2011 annual report, approximately 47 percent of Americans get their local news from a mobile device.

Print circulation continues to decline as readers explore these other avenues, and the report estimates that newsrooms are 30 percent smaller than they were in 2000.

With these news professionals now embracing new-generation communication tools, the convergence of various media has certainly caused Rider’s Department of Communication and Journalism to change the way it prepares its students for their careers.

Dr. Pamela Brown ’73, the chair of Communication and Journalism, said the department has been revising its requirements and specific courses to accommodate those changes in the industry for the past two years. Since various communication media now overlap, Brown says it is no longer appropriate to educate students in only one distinct discipline.

For example, a student majoring in Journalism must not only excel in news writing, but also photography and video production for the Web. Brown also said that since a small number of corporations own newspapers, radio and television stations, versatile employees with skills in many different areas are seen as more valuable, and thus have more opportunities within the corporation.

In turn, those remaining in the newspaper industry have found that in order to remain competitive and to survive in the field, they must learn to adapt to the new technologies.

While some of his colleagues refuse to change, Edelstein has seen the innovations as opportunities to evolve and remain marketable in the field. With more than 3,200 friends – mostly readers – on Facebook, he says he uses the social media platform, along with Twitter, to share his columns and to get story ideas for his columns, which he writes four times a week.

When a massive snowstorm hit the area last winter, Edelstein opted to work from home and posted a Facebook status asking for good story ideas. Immediately, someone posted about his pregnant friend who had gone into labor during the storm. Through Facebook, Edelstein was able to find the woman’s phone number, and interview her just hours after she delivered the baby. The new mom described how her neighbors pitched in to shovel the couple’s car out, as well as the drive to the hospital. By 4 p.m. that day, the story, “Blizzard Baby,” and accompanying photos and video were posted online on Trentonian.com.

Meanwhile, the Internet has enabled Griff, an avid skier, to continue to share his snow sports column online, in addition to his photo coverage. He began the column 14 years ago for the print version of The Times. A few years ago, when the newspaper had to reduce the space allotted to his column, Griff would run the uncut version in his online blog. Now, the column appears exclusively on the blog at NJ.com, the online home of The Times, The Star-Ledger, and several other Garden State newspapers.

Both Griff and Edelstein have incorporated video in their work. While Griff eagerly took advantage of the training his company provided to learn about the new equipment and editing software, it was no easy feat to lug around still and video cameras to events.

“Obviously, in a perfect world, there would be a reporter, photographer and videographer assigned to a story. The newspaper business is no longer a perfect world,” Griff says. Still, he sees how these various formats give the consumer a more complete media experience.

It was an online video Edelstein filmed on a Flip camera to accompany his column that led him to an additional job as a commentator for Fox 5 News in New York. Earlier this year, a station executive saw his video and offered Edelstein the job. In his Fox 5 segment, “Growls from the

Man Cave,” Edelstein shares his views and his sense of humor on a variety of issues, including the Jersey Shore cast, sunscreen, coupons and politics.

“I don’t want to be left behind. I want potential employers to see that I have acquired skills beyond news writing,” explained Edelstein, who also teaches classes in the Department of Communication and Journalism. “I think I found a niche, and I am capitalizing on it.”

Edelstein also encourages his students at Rider to find their own niche in order to stand out in the market.

“Internships matter, but I tell my students to start their own businesses,” he explained of ways to earn real experience. “There are bands and T-shirt companies on a college campus, so become the public relations representative for one. Want to become a journalist? Start a little online newspaper for your town.”

A version of this story appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Rider magazine.

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