Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Our own worst enemy?

Here are some cheery words for journalists, courtesy of Michael Wolff, founder of Newser: "The advice [to journalists] is probably not to get up for work today, sleep in and, you know, hope your retirement account will take care of you."

If I wasn't already downcast by that little spot of advice, these two overheard comments would have certainly done the trick:
1. "I don't get paid any more money for doing it" [ie: Why would I pass on information about a news-relevant YouTube video].
2. "Personally I think it's a bit much that we're having to learn to do this" [ie: Why must I learn how to upload a breaking news story to the web rather than have someone do it for me.]

This, to me, says more about how far we are from achieving that fabled goal of a multimedia newsroom than doomy articles on the 'Collapse of the Newspaper Industry'. It says that very people surrounded by industry changes are unable or unwilling to know which way the wind is blowing. They are like monks in a Scriptorium, painstakingly labouring away at their copying, all the while knowing that the abbot has bought one of those new-fangled printing presses.

I don't know if some in the industry are genuinely hostile to the prospect of change, or whether their fear of what it might mean manifests itself as hostility. I suspect for most it would be the latter explaination - but why would you compromise your career by baulking at opportunities to adapt?
As journalists we have been using tools for years. I had to learn shorthand for my job; on my first paper I took and developed my own photos. I have to say, acquiring those skills has never made me feel I was exploited by some Gradgrind-esque employer.

The ability to break stories online, create visuals and record interviews as podcasts is surely just an extension of said tools.
That's not to say I don't believe increasing skills should go unrewarded in terms of promotion or renumeration, I do. But I also think that, just as you would expect a paramedic to be trained the latest skills and familiar with the equipment he uses, a journalist should be familiar with the tools of story-telling, whether that's a Flip videocamera or knowledge of how to upload content.

If you want to be first, beat the competition, and simply work for the best, most successful news outlet (and why wouldn't you want your company to be successful; if not for the pride then at least for the job security?) you'd surely see the sense in grasping the nettle.

Perhaps the true litmus test of a multimedia newsroom would be for a reporter to feel the same pride in seeing their story ranked first by online reader hits as they would in getting the print splash. When someone congratulates a colleague for having a top show in the web stats, then maybe we can measure how the mindset is changing.

A final thought: The features team on a former paper of mine retired to the library with a couple of bottles of wine once a week, for a gentle afternoon of forward planning. The arrival of a new editor, filled with ideas for platforms, soon saw their workload upped to preclude the possibility of a booze-fuelled afternoon.
Today, the library where they once glugged their way through the latest fashion shoot ideas no longer exists; it's all automatically archived online. The features team, however, is still intact.
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