Module JG030

Backpack Journalism

Module author

Diana Plater



Learning objectives

After you have worked through this module, you will be able to:
  • Define and explain backpack journalism;
  • Explain the reasons for this concept;
  • Give an overview of the historic and technological development of the genre, including key persons who established this genre;
  • Reflect this genre critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract Backpack Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that Backpack Journalism is important zu know

Backpack journalism is a newer, hybridized form of journalism that's seen a lot of growth, in part because it's a more personal, character-driven means of reporting, but also because it gives the journalist more control over how their information is conveyed. Industry consensus defines backpack journalism as a method of reporting that requires the journalist to also be a researcher, videographer, photographer, producer, and editor. As a blending or convergence of multimedia techniques, the journalist uses tools such as a lightweight portable electronics, editing software, and a cell phone to record newsworthy people, places, and events in a more visceral way, engaging the audience's emotions as much as intellect.

The roots of backpack journalism can be traced back to the mid-90s. Michael Rosenblum, a broadcast journalist and now consultant for the New York Times, stated that journalists and photographers should learn to use the small yet high-quality camcorders that had started coming out, which would make international news coverage cheaper since sending one person abroad is less costly than sending a whole team. Video News International (VNI) was Rosenblum's brainchild and produced the first batch of what today would be considered backpack journalists.

After the events of September 11, 2001, many media and news outlets created multimedia websites they could continue to update with videos, photos, and links to outside and supplemental sources as the story developed further. As a way to compete with these multimedia news sites, other news organizations considered new ways journalists could incorporate multimedia into their reporting, and how the Internet made the submission and access of this content faster and easier. Backpack journalism was the answer to the media convergence at the start of the 21st century. Rather than diversification and specialization, different forms of media were converging, offering the audience a layered, multimedia experience. Around the same time, technology was becoming smaller, more portable, more affordable, yet still offering high quality. Armed with a camcorder, cell phone, laptop, digital camera, and some editing software, journalists were able to travel anywhere a story could take them, then use a combination of audio, visual, and written reporting techniques to capture the story and remotely submit them to the web and television news outlets from anywhere in the world.

Back when they were huddled throughout Iraq in the wake of 9/11, backpack journalists were considered the journalists of the future. However, it seems the future is here. Also called backpackers, solo journalists and "sojo's," these journalists incorporate available technology in ways that has made journalism much more mobile and more instantaneous. Oftentimes, the finished content is available sooner and sometimes has an interactive element, allowing the user the option to access only the content that want or need to know. The accessibility and ease of backpack reporting has led to the widespread belief that backpack journalism is the inevitable future. However, unlike traditional journalism where reporters submit their stories to editors for fact-checking and polishing, some wonder if the quality of reporting might suffer due to the backpack journalists being responsible for all the components of their story, especially when they could just upload their stories directly to the web.

One of the best arguments for the propogation of backpack journalism is the opportunity it presents for the journalist to deliver deeper, more compelling stories that have a more profound effect on the audience. With the reporter being given all the tools and freedom they need to assume total authorship of a story, they can spend more time with their subjects, creating connections with them, which allows them to record more observations and intimate details that otherwise wouldn't have been available. The result of this is a more powerful, visual form of reporting and storytelling.

It's possible, perhaps even likely, that backpack journalism will become the industry standard. With the collapse of the world economy, it's become more important than ever to have a diverse set of skills no matter the industry in which a person might work. Today, it's not enough to be a great journalist; you must be a great journalist who can also utilize a variety of other reporting techniques, which is the basic foundation of backpack journalism. In fact, many are saying that present and future jounalists will be expected to be able to switch from one medium to another and take full control of a news story in order to succeed in the field of journalism.