Carl Zimmer: Journalists Need Technology

Carl Zimmer informed a room full of journalism and communication majors about the direction of journalism in the media age in Tichnor Hall on Feb. 25.

Zimmer is a New York Times columnist, author of 12 books and an award winning journalist. According to his website, he is also the only writer that he knows of to have a tape worm named after him, Acanthobothrium zimmeri. Zimmer was able to explain the importance of new technology that he has seen develop first-hand from his 25 years of journalism experience,

In Room 215, students sat with the glow of phone, computer and tablet screens shining between them and Zimmer. They were taking notes, using Twitter and communicating with the outside world as Zimmer talked about a time when his boss replied “What’s wrong with the phone?” when he suggested using email to communicate with sources.

Zimmer stated that using new technology is now a crucial part of being a journalist. He admitted that the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude publishers were taking towards the print journalism model scared him at first. As revenues dropped and jobs were cut, Zimmer didn’t see a positive outcome for journalism.

“A few years ago, I used to be more pessimistic about the industry than now,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer was an early adopter of using blogging as a journalistic tool. He viewed his blog as a way to write the stories that wouldn’t make it to print. Since he first started blogging, Zimmer has seen an influx of “old school journalists” create their own blogs to supplement their work. For Zimmer, blogging has become a staple in journalists’ lives, and part of the mainstream media.

“Anybody who still has lingering condescension toward blogging and what it represents,” Zimmer said. “Might as well be snobbish about cars.”

He continues to adopt new technologies as they come up, and encouraged future journalists to do the same.

“If you fool around with these tools and you find something is useful for you,” Zimmer said. “Just go with it. If it’s not, just drop it.”

Zimmer cited websites like Google+, which “only exists so Google can track us,” among the tools that are not useful.

Valuable technology has helped Zimmer grow as a journalist since beginning his career with Discover magazine in 1989. He still has columns and books in print, but has been able to publish his longer pieces online and through e-books. Regardless of the medium, Zimmer stated, the number one goal for a journalist is to communicate with people.

Although the methods of becoming a journalist have changed since Zimmer entered the profession, he left the aspiring journalists in the room with one last piece of advice.

“Write every day,” Zimmer said to the sound of clicking computer keys. “No matter how hung-over you are. No matter how bad of a cold you have.”

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