Thursday, December 2, 2010

5 Myths about Digital Journalism: Recent Grad Style

I have always said that if someone is willing to argue for or against a list of myths post them on the Internet, there are plenty of people who have no problem throwing in their two cents. So that's what I'm going to do too.

A little over a week ago, Mark Luckie of 10,000 Words published an article titled "5 Myths about digital journalism," issuing some statements that are certainly against the grain, especially if you have taken a multimedia journalism course or two in the past few years.

Mark received a few (Andy Boyle) responses (Robert Hernandez) back (Michelle Minkoff) in return. (Major kudos to Mindy McAdams for compiling these. She also had something to say.)

Here's my take.

1) Journalists must know everything

I will admit, I spent a good portion of my journalism education aiming to do just that. Now, I realize that what is important is not trying to know everything, but to "know the possibilities" of everything. Any frustrations I had at The Daily Texan (where I worked as Web Editor) when it came to initiative and ideas for innovation had nothing to do with the talents of my peers. Honestly, I believe there are some real stars working in that cave of a office. But when you do not know what is possible outside the box, there never is really any push to get out of it.

So with this one, I agree with Mark. You do not have to master Final Cut Pro, or know how to make a professional grade Nikon purr, but at the very least get comfortable with the (up-to-date) tools of your trade so if the time ever comes, you will be competent, not lost.

2) Social media is the answer

Social media is not the answer. I agree. There is nothing more futile than a news organization that lacks the content infrastructure to support a non-stop social media presence, no matter how much money it throws at it (instead of spending it on improving the quality/quantity of reporting/website features/journalist pay).

You can say this about any of the "one-shot" solutions for journalism's woes though. The iPad will not be the answer, no matter how beautiful of a user experience it is. The barrier of entry is still too high. Paywalls will not solve the problem alone. Five to ten years experiencing the liberating freedom of the Internet is a hard rush to cut short.

But think about it like this; if you were to start a new media organization today, would you just sidestep creating a social media plan? Not develop a mobile presence, through either a specialized site or application?

(Just to clarify, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with Mark here. But I would rephrase it to be "no one thing is the answer.")

3) Journalists must have database development skills

This one hits close to home for me, because it is what I do and hope to specialize in.

What bothers me about Mark's statement is that it seems like he approaches it from a "if it is not the best, why are you doing it?" point of view. Working with data does not have to be "high-level programming," although that is always an option (that sometimes, not always, results in pretty amazing stuff, like the Wall Street Journal's election app). There are tools out there, like Google Fusion Tables and Many Eyes, that provide easy to use tools that interact with data.

You do not have to be a star to succeed, just willing to take the time to give things a shot. But I will say one thing. If you are lucky enough to have a dedicated programmer in the news room, you two need to become fast friends. Programmers belong in the newsroom too.

4) Comments suck/Comments are essential for democracy

I think the pros far outweigh the cons with comments. Increased engagement is always a good thing, but it is a lot of work. This goes in the same boat as social media in my opinion.

5) There are no journalism jobs

I got very, very lucky. And I think it corresponds with exactly what Mark says. If you walk out of college wanting to hold the job your college professor used to have, well, it may be a little difficult. But if you leave school with valuable skills you would never learn in a journalism course that sets you a part, you are going to be a lot more appealing during the job hunt.

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