Journalism anno 2010: it sure ain't what it used to be
July 23, 2010
As newsrooms all over the world are starting to catch up with the online revolution and grapple with the new opportunities it offers, journalism has almost become a different kind of career alltogether, requiring a whole new type of skillset.
I've been thinking a lot about this recently, not at least following a session I organised on this very topic for the Norwegian Online News Association (NONA) in June, but this morning I stumbled across Gene Weingarten's brilliant and very amusing description of this brave new media landscape in The Washington Post (via John Slattery):
Not very long ago, the typical American newsroom had three types of jobs: reporter, editor and photographer. But lately, as newspapers have been frantically converting themselves into high-tech, 24-hour online operations, things are more complicated. Every few days at The Washington Post, staffers get a notice like this: "Please welcome Dylan Feldman-Suarez, who will be joining the fact-integration team as a multiplatform idea triage specialist, reporting to the deputy director of word-flow management and video branding strategy. Dylan comes to us from the social media utilization division of Sikorsky Helicopters."
It's behind a registration wall but it's free to register and absolutely worth reading in full. Weingarten takes an old school stance to all of this, but does it with great wit. It's ironic to think that only a few weeks back we discussed this issue in full earnest at the annual conference of NONA, which I'm the president of. You can watch USA Today's Juan Thomassie brilliant presentation on data-driven graphics and the new skills needed in today's multimedia newsroom here, and the discussion between Thomassie and NRK's data wizard Espen Andersen on the same issue here.
In the latter video, Espen Andersen says that he thinks it soon will be considered as normal to have programmers as page designers in the newsroom. A long time defender of having programmers in the newsrooms, he has designed much praised databases and maps on issues such as murder snails, parking fines and the commercial interests of Norwegian politicians, all of which proves that coding can be journalism.
In fact, when I attended an iPad conference in Oxford recently, Innovation in Newspaper's Juan Senor told the audience about a programmer who was offered the same salary as the editor-in-chief in order to stay at a newspaper, and still he left: apparently, newsorganisations are just not attractive enough workplaces for many programmers, despite their skills being in huge demand in these organisations.
Popular Norwegian blogger Ida Jackson suggested that one reason why programmers are no too keen on working in the media industry is that they often are treated like monkeys, like cogs in the machinery. Unfortunately, that is an experience many journalists are very familiar with as well. We're all cogs in this shiny new multimedia machinery, but I guess journalists are more willing to do whatever it takes to be allowed to be a part of it all than programmers, and getting all the different parts to work together remains a big challenge for many a media company.
It may very well be that journalists are from Venus and coders from Mars, which incidentally almost is the title on an ONA debate in Washington in October. You'd have to replace journalists with designers to get the accurate title, but I've long suspected that journalists are romantics at heart and that this goes a long way to explain why the media industry is in the mess it is. So let's not get too misty-eyed about what journalism used to be, but rather focus on all the wonderful things it can be...
...Or, to revisit an old cartoon by the ever brilliant Hugh Macleod: