By: Taylor Mueller https://www.linkedin.com/in/taylor-mueller-public-relations/
The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Journalism Department celebrated 50 years on Oct. 19 and outstanding young alumni Jim VandeHei, co-founder of Axios and Politico, started the party by leading a candid discussion.
VandeHei had breakfast with current UW Oshkosh journalism faculty, students, other alumni, community members and the Neenah High School student newspaper staff.
The casual, conversational and highly educational event offered a chance for current and future journalists to gain key advice from an industry leader.
“We look for killers with humility, people with killer talent yet they are humble enough to put the whole above themselves,” VandeHei said. “They’re magical. If you are one of them, you are worth ten people.”
Young professionals should strive to encompass this mix and stand out at jobs, current and future, he said. VandeHei addressed three key points that future journalists should know going into the ever-changing field. The first point addressed social media and its effects on media work.
“Twitter is the worst thing that has happened to journalists,” VandeHei said. “Most journalists would say the opposite, that it’s awesome, but really it’s awful!”
He explained problems caused by reporters covering news and then sharing opinions and personal comments on social media sites like Twitter, which can impact how the public views media professionals and the news articles they generate.
“I would have been fired from The Washington Post a decade ago if I posted comments that I see written today,” said VandeHei.
He asked the group: how does sharing our views on social media get people who may already be skeptical of us, to trust us?
A study of reporter attitudes about social media from Cision shows “less than half of the respondents agreed that social media has had a positive impact on journalism (42 percent agreed and 26 percent disagreed).”
VandeHei said he’s still an optimist in terms of the relationship between journalists and social media, noting “little by little it will start to fix itself, but it will be on you guys [future reporters] to fix it.”
The second point focused on artificial intelligence and its ever-increasing presence in the world, for which VandeHei stated, “it’s not enough to be an expert in one small area, you must have some familiarity with robotics or AI.”
As stated by Stefan Hall, a writer for World Economic Forum, “the AI industry is expected to expand by a compound annual growth rate of 50 percent from 2015 [to] 2025.”
AI will change the practice of journalism in three distinct ways. According to Hall’s article, this technology soon will be automating routine reporting, providing faster insights and lowering barriers to entry.
Last but not least, he gave astounding advice on how to find a good source. As defined by Beth Winegarner from Poynter, a good source is, “someone who trusts and respects you and will come to you when they hear news on the down-low.” VandeHei mentioned how finding a good source takes time but it’s the result of building a relationship.
“You have to be tough and earn respect, but always be truthful,” he said.
As a journalist, the news that is put out is only as good as the source, he said, and good reporters understand their source’s needs and build mutually beneficial relationships that last.
Jim VandeHei had many words of wisdom for future journalists. Above all, he said to remember, “if you can find something to do that you actually love doing, then I guarantee you are going to have a much happier life.”