Time to get with the program

There has been a lot of debate in journalistic circles of late about the state of denial most journalists and media academics are in regarding new media. An article today in ClickZ echoes what organisations like the Poynter Foundation have been saying for years – journalists need to get their head out of the sand and embrace the Internet, because, like it or not, it is changing the face of journalism. Being a good writer isn’t enough in the 21st century; you need to be able to write web copy, operate a blog, do your research and link out to your sources, even use a video camera.

I used to be one of those journalists: I studied hard so I could get into a top journalism program, honed my reporting and feature-writing skills for four years, and believed writing for a quality newspaper was the greatest job there could be (until I would move on to writing best-selling novels).  I ended up moving to Australia and the first job I landed was in the rough-and-ready world of B2B publishing, where they expected you to do a bit of everything – becoming an editor much too soon, dealing with people management, taking photos, and, worst of all, becoming familiar with P&Ls and the realities of advertising-based publishing. I hated it at the time, but it took my blinders off and prepared me for dealing with change. I became involved in Internet publishing more than 10 years ago because, with my blinders off, I could see that this was the direction in which communications, including journalism, was going.

I recently did a stint back in traditional publishing and was amazed to see that the attitude of journalists hadn’t changed in the past 10-15 years. Most of my staff, despite being Gen Y, refused to engage with the publication’s website, because they were convinced that regular deadlines, well-designed pages and the feel of a magazine in your hand was what journalism was all about. When I talked about content management systems, email newsletters, multimedia, blogs, etc., they started muttering about job descriptions and the union award. Like others who have been writing on this topic, I blame the university programs, who are still churning out journalists who are too good to do anything other than report and write.

Much as it pains me to say this, as someone who grew up and started their career believing in the purity and hyperspecialisation of journalism, the Internet, new ways of communicating stories, and citizen journalism are all a fact of life today, and journalists who won’t admit this and who won’t widen their perspective and their activities will end up bitter and unemployed.

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