5 Answers with Victor Hernandez

Victor Hernandez is the director of media innovation at Banjo, a suite of products that equips media professionals with tools to discover breaking news as it happens. Hernandez has worked at CNN’s global headquarters and is now a Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow, and focuses on exploring how to incorporate the use of wearable technology into news workflow, audience exploration, audience experiences and storytelling. News Media Alliance caught up with Hernandez about his research work, how he sees the future of media and more.

What drew you to working in news media?

I knew from an early age that I was interested in pursuing a career in journalism. I was raised by a parent who worked for our small town newspaper for a number of years, and as a young student, I had an insatiable appetite for news and current events and thoroughly enjoyed writing. During college, I had an opportunity to gain valuable real-world exposure in television, radio and print newsrooms, eventually moving into full-time editorial positions at local broadcast outlets and then CNNs global headquarters for more than a dozen years.

My career in news media has truly felt like a high-speed roller coaster ride, filled with lots of unexpected twists and turns. However, I have always felt that it has been rewarding and fulfilling, especially in recent years, because of the great deal of innovation and collaboration at the heart of much of my professional pursuits.
CNN Digital Rebranding 2014 Victor Hernandez
Tell me about your experience as a Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow

I’ve had the chance to develop and grow wonderful relationships with friends and thought leaders at RJI, not as a former student,  but rather connecting with RJI faculty and staff in more recent years through the professional intersection of new media initiatives and opportunities. The relationship went to the next level in 2015 when the timing was ripe for the necessary investment of time, energy and ideas by way of the RJI academic fellowship program.

I had been thinking about wearable technology and the potential impacts to newsrooms for a few years; primarily from a digital content production and distribution perspective, but I also pondered important consumer behaviors and how media – specifically editorial content – is radically shifting in shape, form and frequency, in order to remain relevant to audiences.

When the RJI Fellowship opportunity came together, it provided a wonderfully open and supportive venue to lead exploration and research in the very early era of wearables and news, and to do so alongside some of the foremost experts in the future of journalism movement.

2015-2016 Wearables + News RJI Fellowship efforts have featured several dynamic facets:

  • In-person collaboration, partnership building and presenting at industry-leading conferences such as Wearable World Congress, Online News Association and MobileMe&You.
  • Working closely with RJI convergence journalism students via a Capstone program assigned specifically to support ideas and executions in pursuit of the wearables and newsrooms research.
  • Heavy involvement and influence in this year’s annual RJI student innovation competition, which involved students developing and executing Apple Watch applications.
  • Building, producing and publishing a virtual ‘Wearables for Newsrooms’ playbook, designed to support early strategies and execution of how news organizations may consider taking smart advantage of wearable tech and audience opportunities.

What is the most exciting thing you are currently working on?

Quite honestly, every aforementioned aspect comes with its own unique excitement and reward. I just recently returned from a brief visit back to the Mizzou campus and was pretty blown away by the creativity and ambitious ideas shared by students during the first round of pitch sessions from the RJI innovation competition.

Interdisciplinary students from journalism, business and computer science schools get together and come up with unique ideas for Apple Watch applications that they’ll be responsible for prototyping and executing.

The range of ingenuity and imagination displayed is pretty inspiring. These young minds are coming up with the next wave of mobile experiences, several of them specific to news, but others are drawing from other challenges/solutions within society. Again, really inspiring stuff.

What’s the most surprising thing you have learned in your time exploring how to incorporate the use of wearable technology in newsrooms?

I’ve been most surprised at the rapid pace of change, even within this very early phase of wearable tech and implications to newsrooms.

The Apple Watch was just released to the world six months ago, and in that relatively short period, a large majority of people have been exposed to the technology and its initial features. Watch specific applications are improving all the time; each week brings a new ‘must-have’ app to our wrists. Loads of experimentation is taking place in this initial period of “glance journalism.” Notifications and messaging are taking on new forms.

Story structure optimized for the tiniest, most intimate screen we’ve seen yet to date continues to evolve. Updates to the Apple Watch operating system are affording for greater opportunities to push boundaries for capabilities special to the wrist technology.

Change, like the over-arching theme across all of journalism, is happening at breakneck speeds. It’s increasingly difficult to attempt to solidify lesson plans and publish books specific to emerging trends, case studies and best practices with the frequency of change occurring so quickly. Our hope is that through the virtual wearables playbook, consistent and timely updates will help advance strategy and discussion across newsrooms for years to come.

How do you see the future of news media?

I view the future of news media about one to three years out. Anyone who thinks they can predict anything further out is kidding themselves.

The media ecosystem is drastically changing every year; new devices, new screens, new forms of interaction, new ways of storytelling, creating content and engaging an audience. Just when you think you’ve got a firm grasp on what’s happening and where the industry is headed, something unforeseen and disruptive gets introduced and you’re reaching for the reset button. It’s become a very known and common adage in the news business; the only constant is change, so you have to learn how to embrace it.

Hernandez can be found on Twitter at @ToTheVictor.


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