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Printies and webbies — we’re all journalists!

Posted by on Nov 22, 2009 in Blog, convergence, web | One Comment

Oh, why can’t we just get along?  There’s been a lot of talk recently about the cuts at the Washington Post of workers in the separate print and online departments.  There’s been an outpouring of comments on the nature of the news business due to this issue.  Some say the web is all about presentation, and without print journalists, there won’t be anything to post.  The web workers say that content just won’t be seen if it isnt’ presented properly.  Stories of the lack of understanding between the two, such as this of former WaPo print-turned-online staffer (and my current Medill professor) Derek Willis are harrowing.  As a student, I thought if I could just get the skills down, my journo-tech obsession would have a place in this world.  Turns out, there’s a lot to be concerned about.

It’s not surprising though.  My own, admittedly minimal, media experiences show a deep rift between print and online workers. The Washington Post separated its print and online headquarters across a river. Sure, that’s a very literal example of the problem, but it’s no better than many of the organizations I’m familiar with.  In my role as web content intern at WTTW last summer, people on both the web and editorial side worked with me, but they were on opposite sides of the building.  At one point, there was talk of me having two desks!  Same at the Boston Phoenix about three years ago.  The notion that the “web people” is separate from editorial is a big part of the problem.  Web workers are not just about presentation, they are content creators too.  The Web is best used when it is considered from concept to final product. That means people with diverse backgrounds should be involved in conceiving new ideas. We must all consider the possibilities technology brings to journalism.

Listen up, media folks.  All journalism projects are web projects. I don’t care if you’re a newspaper, tv program or blog.  The notion of a completely platform-based journalism is laughable.  It’s no longer about how it’s presented, because any piece is likely to be (and should be) distributed in multiple platforms.  This isn’t a radically different concept from the common admonition that we should diversify newsrooms by bringing together people from different racial and economic backgrounds, as it helps to inform the newspaper’s overall judgment.  It’s not a war, but a question of coming together.  Kumbayah, indeed.

We can start in the journalism schools.  I consider many different tasks part of my daily reporting class. It’s not just about asking people questions and writing stories. It’s not even just about photos and video.  Figuring out how to query databases and display thousands of records at once on an interactive map, and even design questions such as how to layout a story on a page in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly, it’s all essential.

I continue to be devastated every time a professor starts to discuss any type of code — it doesn’t matter if it’s HTML or Python — and makes a joke that”This is a warning, we’re going to code.”  Why are we warning people? There’s no warning before we talk about photos or videos, it’s just another tool.  And as we presumptuously try to “save journalism,” (and you know, find gainful employment) we can use as many tools as we can get.

So when one thinks about learning all this, it’s pretty scary.  After a year in j-school, there’s so much more to learn. And it’s completely intimidating.  And if there’s talk of great videographers like Travis Fox being in danger, because their work isn’t applicable in print, what about those of us just finding our footing in the digital world?

The answer, perhaps, is that we keep dreaming, keep innovating and never stop learning.  As journalists, I thought that was part of our commonality – -we love to learn anything and everything, each day is an education. Let’s make it so that’s not just a description of our approach to subject matter, but to techniques that allow us to give people the info they need. The more tools available, the better.

And most importantly of all, let’s remember to appreciate the journey — because if you stop and think about it, it’s a pretty exciting and fun way for us to spend our days!

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