No room for Web newbies?

Paul Conley is on a rampage with a series of posts based on the idea of digging a “fighting hole” (which many of us would call a foxhole). He’s writing about B2B journalism, but most of what he says applies equally well to daily newspaper journalism.

He’s saying employers should not offer any training in Web journalism.

His reasoning — stay with me here — is that people who will not train themselves are no asset to your newsroom.

It’s the kind of post that gets me feeling very conflicted. One part of me is thinking, “No, no, Paul, that’s terrible!” But another part is thinking, “He’s right, he’s absolutely right.”

It also reminded me of a column Keith Jenkins (multimedia director at The Washington Post) wrote one year ago:

If we are to survive as news organizations, survival will have to be charted by people who live in the new world, rather than by people who view the Web as either a threat or a tool to gain temporary power in a mortally wounded industry. New Media, Web 2.0, or whatever you want to call it, is powered by the people for the people. Join them or be ignored.

… we should be inventing this new world with people who already populate it. Real bloggers, photobloggers and vloggers — embrace them and learn from them. Only then can we continue to be relevant.

But you can’t just fire everybody.

Paul says:

We cannot move backward to round up the stragglers and train them to fight. It’s too late to try to convince print journalists that the Web has value.

I repeat: You can’t just fire everybody.

Paul says:

I cannot teach the Web. No one can. Yet all of us who are part of the Web are learning the Web.

That’s where he really gets me. Because I know what he means. Sometimes I despair at how many young students we lead to the multimedia trough only to see them decline to drink. Sometimes I feel like the only ones who “get it” are the ones who already “got it” before we got them.

But then, once in a while, I have the wonderful experience of seeing a student who never “got it” come around to embrace the future, to welcome it wholeheartedly, arms spread wide to catch it. And I am reminded that there are still journalists out there who do not get it but who could, who would, if the right combination of circumstances befell them.

Maybe the right combination of circumstances lies in the newsroom itself — if only everyone were required to step up and pull their own weight on the online side. If the online staff were not ghetto-ized, stuffed into closets separate from the rest of the journalists, cloistered with advertising or some other nonsensical thing.

What needs to change in your newsroom to bring this about — to make everyone understand that they must all be digging the foxhole, together?

16 Comments on “No room for Web newbies?

  1. Just because I “get it” doesn’t mean I know how to edit video. It makes more sense for someone who does to teach me than for me waste reporting and sourcing time trying to figure it out on my own.

  2. Mindy, I’ve been having a great time reading up on your blog since we are, as you know, in the thick of the very things you discuss. We’ve gone a hybrid route, we only have a few people available for training, so, we’re identifying people who have made some effort on their own and we give them the building blocks they need to keep going. For instance, I just finished a video training class for reporters. We show them the basics, let them check out simple kits and ask them to keep going with at least one video a week for the next month or so on their own. It’s very clear to everyone that this is important and our situation is serious.

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  4. I’m always a bit baffled when I read about “training” print journalists to do online journalism. What exactly is being taught? HTML? Video editing skills? What a blog is? How to turn on their computer perhaps?

  5. @albert: Yeah, some of this stuff is so simple, you have to wonder why people think they need training — blogging falls into the category for me. But video is a lot easier to learn if an experienced person shows you the ropes, as Jen described in a comment here.

    If people go out on their own to learn XHTML and CSS, they might choose the wrong teachers (old books, old online tutorials) and learn a bunch of stuff we don’t do anymore.

    It does seem like journalists, who are trained to uncover information, should be able to figure a lot of this out without help. But some things are magnitudes easier if someone shows you first.

  6. Mindy – I don’t think the issue is as black and white as Paul makes it out to be. Perhaps that suits his agenda, but the world rarely works this way.

    The newsroom is not split between “those who get it,” and “those who are entrenched in old ways.” There are many who are open to new media, but bogged down by their current responsibilities, or they are unsure of how to take the first step.

    I love your blog because of its empathy towards people – there is an undercurrent of simply wanting to help.

    Paul’s theme of sink or swim is not really a way to bring a fragmented industry forward.
    Have a nice evening.
    -Dan

  7. I’m from Poland and I would like to share with you some thoughts on this post. I’ve been a b2b journalist for nearly three years. Throughout that time, everything I’ve learnt, I’ve learnt myself. Some of my colleagues occasionally complained that they didn’t get any training from their company. I’ve always believed that if they really wanted to gain knowledge in journalism, all they had to do was to search for it on the Web and in the books. In my opinion it’s the specific character of this job. In other words, if you wanted to have your boss send you for special training, you should have started working in e.g. government administration. However, I must say that I also believe that special trainings for journalists are necessary. I, myself, decided to start a special year course like that (one of the Poland’s best), which meant travelling every two weeks for about 250 km to a different city. The conclusion I have after a couple of months is that, I can learn more from reading blogs of experienced journalists from the UK or US than from my course.

  8. Hi Mindy,
    In response to Dan’s comment: journalism has always been a sink or swim environment. As it should be. How long would any publication put up with someone who couldn’t spell? or couldn’t get names or quotes right? or couldn’t figure out how to operate Microsoft Word.
    Yet everywhere I look — in newspapers, consumer mags and in B2B — I find employees who haven’t learned even the simplest of online tasks. And everywhere I look I find employees who think that fixing this is somehow the responsibility of their bosses.
    Journalism will probably always require training in advanced skills. We cannot expect reporters to arrive on their first day with expertise in, say, management. If we’re going to promote people to senior positions, we’ll probably have to train them to do those jobs. The same may be true of a handful of reporting and storytelling skills — perhaps database reporting or advanced video editing. However, we shouldn’t have to train people in the BASIC skills. I don’t think we should be offering training in “writing for the Web” anymore than we should be offering training in “how to take notes at a news conference” or “The telephone: your connection to news sources.”

  9. @Paul: This is where I’m right with you. Somebody who says, “Teach me how to blog,” ought to just quit today and get out of the way. Somebody who says, “I used the Microsoft tutorial and learned how to edit this video in Windows Movie Maker; the end result is not very good, but I did manage to upload it to YouTube,” should be given a comp day AND a training opportunity.

  10. @Filip, Re: The conclusion I have after a couple of months is that, I can learn more from reading blogs of experienced journalists from the UK or US than from my course:

    Some courses are definitely like that! But keep your eyes open to see what people say about courses they have attended. Some are much better than others. I do agree with you, we can ALL learn so much from the blogs of experienced online journalists — it’s really wonderful.

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  12. You can’t fire everybody, but newspapers do need to fire the non-journalist, millstone design dolts who do nothing but hold back the newsrooms.

    Then you could get real journalists into those spots and work on training for the 21st century. Right now, newspapers are still clinging to the old, failed ways of the design-based approach, and that will never change as long as witless pseudoeditors of presentation are allowed to have any say.

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  15. I’m the “anonymous” poster who sparked this whole conversation on Mr. Conley’s Web site. My plea for training wasn’t aimed at learning how to blog or write stories for the Web. I can do that, just as I think most journalists these days are capable of doing. I’m more concerned about the technical skills that Paul has been preaching, i.e. Photoshop, video, html, Flash. I don’t think these are skills you can expect someone to learn entirely on his own. Paul’s suggestion that publishers dump the “dinosaurs” who aren’t proficient in these areas will leave a huge knowledge gap in the industry and ultimately hurt the credibility and quality of journalism.

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