A new kind of journalism

Tim Porter, responding to a column by Memphis Commercial-Appeal Editor Chris Peck on “journalism as a conversation,” writes about training today’s journalist to be a new kind of journalist:

At the APME convention in 2005, Peck, after hearing a panel describe a laundry list of new types of journalism for the future, commented: We need “different brains” and different skills in the news room to do those things. Where are we going to get them? In reply I wrote:

“The answer, of course, is we have to grow them – through strategic training, through ongoing learning, through the same sort of professional reinvention other industries have sustained. We must retool the news factory. [Read: Rethinking the News Factory (Again).] The newspaper industry, however, is a training Scrooge, investing on average only 0.7 percent of payroll in professional development, only a third the national average. It has under spent its way into a work force that is under-prepared for cultural change or professional reinvention. All the good talk and assembled panels about change will amount to naught unless news managers put bodies and dollars into training – about technology, about audience, about communication and collaboration, about leadership.” [Read: ASNE to APME: What Happened in Six Months?]

My concern is that this is more than just a training issue — it’s a motivation issue.

Anybody who has known me long knows that I started out in this business as print-centric and hard core about newspaper reporting as they come. The level to which I now embrace digital-age journalism is equally as hard core. I made the jump in belief systems not through training, but really by happenstance. I happened to not be working in a news room (though at a newspaper) when I got bit by blogging. I charged into blogging head on and didn’t look back. It wasn’t long before I saw the implications for traditional journalism, both the challenges and opportunities.

Among many of my colleagues that I meet, because they’re still enmeshed in news room culture, they just don’t get blogging, user-generated content, conversing with readers and the like. Many of them want to get it, or understand that maybe they should get it, but first, they’ve got to turn in this 12-inch story on the mayor’s campaign report.

You can lead a reporter to blogger, but you can’t make him type.

And I’m not just talking about the grey beards. Even kids right out of college seem more interested in practicing the kind of journalism they have been conditioned to believe journalism is, that they show even less interest in the new tools than some of the veterans.

Now, this is all anecdotal, of course. Your experience may vary. And I do know some people, both young and old, who are fully enthused about the new opportunities for journalism. But I’m not convinced news room cultures are changing fast enough. And I’m not sure any amount of training is going to solve that issue.

What it is going to take, and what some newspapers are doing, is creating whole new news teams that have nothing to do with the print edition. The teams need to be staffed by people who live and breath digital content.

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