By Anna Thielen | Contributing Writer

Tim O’Rourke spoke with the American Journalism class at Saint Mary’s. (Courtesy of Anna Thielen) 

The morning for Tim O’Rourke began with the editing of a story covering the San Francisco Giants. But that story was quickly put on the back burner as he got wind of the shooting at the YouTube headquarters. This new curveball meant a sprint to the front lines. Decisive decisions needed to be made, and action needed be taken, quickly.

On April 3, the Assistant Managing Editor and Executive Producer at the San Francisco Chronicle gave Saint Mary’s students in the American Journalism class insight into the modern journalism industry. Since O’Rourke graduated in 2003 from Saint Mary’s College of California, he claims times have changed drastically for journalism. No longer do reporters simply make calls to police stations for second hand updates. It has become an industry defined by the unexpected, and abrupt changes in daily scripts are not uncommon for journalists.

“News is a much more complicated enterprise now,” O’Rourke said. Modern news companies are now focused on urgency and engaging readers on various platforms. Various platforms include social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook, which are becoming more and more common and accessible among subscribers. The new era of social media has provoked even more competition for urgency as news can now be uploaded from anywhere at anytime. For news such as the shooting at the YouTube headquarters, news outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle race to publish the first reports their consumer base sees.

“As soon as something happens we’re there,” O’Rourke said. Breaking news means reporters are expected to act quickly, gathering evidence and relaying it back to the studio where a social media posts are developed before the publication of the actual story. A post with one or two facts help the newspaper maintain a competitive edge in terms of urgency in publications, and buys more time for fact checking the full length article.

But for reporters, their job includes more than just rushing to the scene. The new role of journalists has become overarching wherein they are expected to be interviewers, reporters, videographers, writers, fact checkers, and photographers. “It’s a do-it-all-yourself” position O’Rourke explains. News companies are now prioritizing skills such as adaptability and technological knowledge when hiring new employees, requirements that were not necessary for journalists in the past.  

The battle of the front headlines continues among journalists who are spurred on by the digital age and consumer demands. “It’s been and will be a tough fight,” O’Rourke says. “But I wouldn’t trade my job for anything.”

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