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Sara Morrison – Media Reporter, The Wrap

In today’s erratic journalism industry, the state of journalism itself has become an increasingly fertile coverage area. Journalists have almost as much to report on their own trade as any other. Newspapers writing on the decline of newspapers; internet magazines struggling for revenue reporting on the struggle for revenue; sites with paywalls writing about sites with paywalls. This brand of meta-journalism has become commonplace, affording much opportunity for journalists seeking to cover their own dynamic world. Sara Morrison, media reporter at TheWrap, is one such journalist.

Joining The Wrap in September 2013, she describes her work as “journalism about journalism,” which encompasses a lot. “Social media, TV news, magazines, newspapers… it’s a pretty huge beat,” she said. “And I’m doing breaking news, interviews and longer, more in-depth pieces when I have the time. I’m the only dedicated media reporter TheWrap has right now, so I tend to have a hand in everything.”

The breadth of her beat may seem daunting, but Morrison welcomes the challenge with alacrity. “I want to know what’s going on in every newsroom everywhere and why,” she said.

Enthusiasm aside, Morrison does recognize certain obstacles inherent to her particular beat. As a relatively new reporter covering the media industry, she’s got to earn her stripes and the trust of other media professionals. Otherwise, her sources might be less than forthcoming.

“The media beat is tough because basically every single one of your sources knows what they should tell you and why, what they want on the record and off, who they should trust – which is rarely going to be someone who’s fairly new to the beat,” she said. “The media reporters who get the genuine, good sources and stories are the ones who have earned their peers’ respect. So, that’s what I’ve got to do, too.”

Morrison’s passion for journalism is clear, but she didn’t always plan to cover her own industry. “Journalism about journalism is kind of something I fell into,” she said. “I got an assistant editorship at the Columbia Journalism Review out of grad school and it seemed like a great way to learn a lot about the industry, interact with a ton of other journalists and report about something I was intrinsically interested in just by virtue of the fact that it’s my career.”

After falling into the journalism beat, Morrison has never wanted for material. The industry is markedly capricious, which stokes her interest and keeps her busy. “It’s an industry that’s undergoing a lot of change and disruption right now, which is exciting,” she said. “Institutions that have been around for decades and even centuries are trying new things and outlets that have been around for a few years are giving them a serious run for their money.”

Some notable innovations, according to Morrison, involve using the Internet to reinvent the way stories are told and delivered to audiences.

The New York Times’ ‘Snow Fall’ piece is a pretty commonly used example of this – using the Internet to tell a story in a way that just print or video could not,” she stated. “Pitchfork creates beautiful, Internet-centric presentations of its stories as well. Several outlets are doing amazing things with data visualizations – The Guardian is a big leader in this field.”

Morrison also points to Twitter as an important catalyst for innovation and change in the journalism industry. Journalists have taken to the social media platform like moths to a flame, even though its ultimate applications are still unclear.

“Journalists love Twitter!” she said. “I think we all know that Twitter – and social media in general – is an increasingly big part of our industry but no one’s exactly sure how best to use it yet. It’s interesting to watch them try to figure it out.”

Morrison acknowledges that, while change and disruption gives her a lot to write about, it comes at a cost, especially from the perspective of a Web reporter. As opportunities open in the Internet sphere, they often close elsewhere.

“The Internet has to be, by far, the biggest driver of these changes,” she said. “It allows outlets to make these interactive stories but it also hugely disrupted many of those outlets’ business models. That’s a really interesting part of my job, but it also came at the cost of thousands and thousands of other people’s jobs and possibly some really great journalism. I’m scared to think of the stories we’ve missed while we’re all busy chasing easy page views. Then again, it’s those easy page view stories that pay for the others right now.”

In this unpredictable, almost Darwinian industry, Morrison has learned to take nothing for granted.

“If there’s one thing you learn pretty quickly as a media reporter these days, it’s that no one in journalism can afford to assume that everything is always going to be the same, or that what works now will work tomorrow. If you’re not thinking ahead, you’re getting left behind.”

 

Pitching Tips

Become familiar with her work and pitch relevant material. “When I get a pitch that has nothing to do with my beat whatsoever, that’s annoying,” she said.

She is most receptive to pitches that reference studies or expert analyses of the media industry – information that she wouldn’t come across on her own.

She is also interested in products that can make journalists’ lives easier. “There’s a lot of negativity in the industry right now – layoffs, bankruptcies, titles being sold for basically pennies – it’s always nice to find something positive to report.”

Morrison is available on Twitter at @SaraMorrison.

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