Southern Illinoisan journalist visits Cambs Times office to discover similarities in UK/US media industries

A GROUP of young Rotarians from South Illinois, USA, spent three days in the Fens last week as part of the Group Study Exchange. The exchange is a scheme which sees young Rotarians visit a specific area overseas an, in turn, reciprocate with their hosts in a similar manner. One of those young Rotarians to visit Fenland was ADAM TESTA, a features journalist on The Southern Illinoisan. He spent last Wednesday at our office in March and discovered many similarities – and some differences – in the UK’s media industry.

TRAVELLING halfway around the globe, one encounters an array of cultural disparities and similarities.

The United States and England are two nations with a long-entwined history, and through the past two centuries the rift between the countries has widened.

From architecture and the arts to lifestyles and even language, it doesn’t take long for people to discover the differences for themselves.

Courtesy of Rotary International, I’ve had the opportunity to explore the East Anglia region. Our Group Study Exchange aims to provide relevant cultural and vocational experiences in an international environment.

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Our agenda has included a number of regional attractions and sites of relevant interest. The cornerstone of the exchange, however, is the featured vocational days, when we visit businesses and organisations similar to our employers back home.

As the features and lifestyles reporter for The Southern Illinoisan, I have visited Archant publications including the Eastern Daily Press in Norwich, the Great Yarmouth Mercury and the Cambs Times/Wisbech Standard.

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Each visit has opened new doors into the realm of international media. The highlight has been the opportunity to learn that the issues and challenges, benefits and struggles of media transcend international borders.

In recent years, journalism has shifted away from simply planning a printed product – whether it be published daily or weekly – and has steered toward the digital arena and a “news-now” mentality revolving around the Internet.

But, much like in the States, changing the journalistic culture requires time.

“We’re still at a point where we almost treat our websites as second-class citizens in a way,” said Richard Willner, audience relations manager for the Eastern Daily Press.

As online media takes on a more prominent role, journalists all over the world have to adapt to and capitalize on new technologies.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are developing into more than personal outlets; they’re becoming valuable tools for journalists to connect with readers.

And the audience is really what matters most. It is essential to ensure the media is continuing to serve its roles as the region’s primary information source and watchdog to local government.

One large difference between American and English media is the prominence of national newspapers, likely because of the expansive size difference between the counties.

While several London-based papers circulate English news stands, and in some cases are the preferred choice of residents, American nationals don’t play as prominent of a role.

Some news organisations, like the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun Times, serve a state or regional level, but really only the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today have truly national distributions and readership.

The world of journalism has evolved drastically in the five years since I entered the professional arena, and the evolution will surely continue in the years to come. The challenges, struggles, risks and rewards of this constant change will be the same on either side of the ocean.

That’s what makes the media industry an exciting one to be a part of.

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