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Alumni Contributions

The Newsroom: Disrupted

Mary Catherine Wellons field producing for a CNBC reporter at Cisco headquaters.
Mary Catherine Wellons field producing for a CNBC reporter at Cisco headquarters.

When I look back on my time at The Cavalier Daily, three things stand out for me: deadline pressure, waiting for hours by the phone for a call back, and my reporter’s notebook.

That was 2001. Today, I work in the CNBC newsroom where, yes, there is deadline pressure, but it’s round the clock. It’s not enough to be first with breaking news on-air. Were you the first to tweet it? The answer better be yes.

Thanks to mobile phones, one doesn’t need to wait by a landline for a source to call back. Plus, that final comment might arrive via “Direct Message” on Twitter.

That reporter’s notebook? It’s been replaced by Evernote and a slew of handy apps on my iPhone.

No question, smartphones and tablets have dramatically changed the way journalists do their jobs today. When I walked into 30 Rockefeller Plaza in 2005 to start the NBC Page Program, I was holding a flip phone with limited texting capabilities. The horror! I remember sitting in satellite trucks with reporters who wrote scripts on bits of paper. Today, they type them on their iPads while tweeting updates in between live shots.

The role of the producer has changed, too. When I worked with David Faber during the financial crisis, I wore a lot of hats, but my key function was to be a darn good researcher. Today, producers are digital journalists. The expectation is that you will produce, but also tweet, write for your website, shoot b-roll, take photos, and make sure the reporter looks like a million bucks on TV.

I began to see the digital shift happen in a dramatic way when I left New York City in the fall of 2009 and relocated to Los Angeles as a field producer for CNBC. For the next two years, I had a front row seat to the social media wave that was about to engulf mainstream media.

At that time, Facebook was already 5 years old, Twitter a mere toddler at age 3, and foursquare had just been born. I produced for a reporter who covered all of these companies and it was then that I started using Twitter. In no time, I was addicted — not just because it was fun, but it made me better at my job. I’d call into the control room on my Blackberry and monitor news via Twitter on my iPhone.

I became so immersed in social media that I left production for a role in digital media. I loved being on the front lines of a news story, but it dawned on me that digital media IS the front line. Go run social media for CNBC? Sign me up!

CNBC producer desk with social media tools at the ready.
CNBC producer desk with social media tools at the ready.

When I walk around the CNBC newsroom today, things look a little different from 2006. On every desktop monitor, you’ll find a Tweetdeck or Hootsuite dashboard. Look up, and you might see a tweet on-air. Cramer’s over by the “Mad Money” set writing a story for LinkedIn while Becky Quick hosts a Q&A on Facebook. Our social media team’s busy curating a blog on Storify, and overheard at the Breaking News desk, “Did you just see what Bill Gross tweeted about the bond market? Let’s get that on-air!”

These are the sights and sounds of the digitally disrupted newsroom. Now, where is that reporter’s notebook?

Mary Catherine Wellons is a 2004 graduate of the College and a former associate editor in the news section. She is currently social media director at CNBC in New York City. Wellons will be a guest speaker at the Cavalier Daily Digital Media Forum, which will take place April 20, 2013.