Beginning Oct. 26, the AP style has been updated to remove the word "writer" from the byline. The new format includes the author's name followed by "Associated Press." While seemingly innocuous, this is a subtle but significant shift that acknowledges contemporary reporters are engaging in creative news activity beyond tapping out keys in an often dated word processing program. The classic definition and skills of a journalist could be in the process of redefinition as a result.
"It reflects what's been going on for a long time---people go out, they take pictures, they write stories, they do video, they work on different platforms," AP Managing Editor Thomas Kent told Editor & Publisher, noting that "it does say something about the changing skill set of our journalists, and that they work in may different formats."
While the absence of this description is not unusual---the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times do not employ "writer" in bylines---explicitly addressing content creation for multimedia platforms as AP has is a significant bellwether of what will be demanded of journalists in a digital media age.
Newsrooms, or what's left of them, have also been ransacked in recent years with layoffs, buyouts and downsizing drastically reducing staffing levels. Many of those reporters remaining are taking photographs and shooting video not out of a desire to explore new multimedia opportunities but because there's no one else left to do it. Who has time to learn XML or other interactive techniques when they have to report and write a story 30 miles away after shooting pictures at a city commission meeting downtown? This type of chaos isn't ideal for innovation. It's barely an atmosphere that encourages quality.
The time is ripe for the "programmer/journalist" to enter the contemporary newsroom. New techniques and vehicles for the information experience have never been more desperately needed. An increasingly savvy readership is also ready to embrace compelling new forms that enrich their knowledge and senses. The challenge will be for newsrooms, driven by fear and tradition more than innovation, to welcome these entrants and cultivate an atmosphere of innovation. Those that do will have a greater shot at redefining the medium and not clumsily (and endlessly) chasing the status quo.