We can’t let the newsroom turtles impede progress

Let’s see, your industry is dying.

All the trends are pointing against your survival.

And your response: We shouldn’t change. We should keep doing what we’re doing.

Or, your profession calls on you to keep an open mind and consider evidence over personal feelings.

So when somebody suggests maybe you should approach your job differently, your response: You retreat into a protective shell, say I’m not going to change and anybody who suggests otherwise doesn’t know squat.

Or, maybe your industry isn’t dying, just going through massive change, and maybe a little natural retraction, but the change still requires re-evaluation every aspect of your industry, and maybe if you can respond with some good ideas and innovation, you actually have a chance to grow business, create new revenue, protect and/or create jobs — it’s all good and all positive, but the best response you can muster is “there’s no need to do things differently to fit the new opportunities.” And you cling to that hunker-down-and-try-to-hang-on response even as your friends are losing their jobs.

Or, you’ve spent all of your career being an expert in doing what you do, so good for you.

Meanwhile the world around you has been changing, and you’ve been too buried in your work to even notice or care. Other people have made it their life and career passion to track and understand these changes. When they come forward with suggestions about how to IMPROVE what you do, you’re response is to duck and cover. The last thing you want to do is change, no matter how much evidence mounts that change is vital to your professions survival.

Here’s the thing: I’ll listen to anybody who comes forward with new ideas. But if you’re only response to suggestions for change is “I’m not going to change,” you’re not going to get anywhere with me. I respond better to people with positive attitudes than to people with negative attitudes.

I’m by nature a pretty conservative person. I don’t believe in change for the sake of change. But if you don’t believe change is necessary NOW, then you’ve had your head in your shell for the past decade.

I’m tired of newsroom turtles who would rather obstruct progress than contribute to it.

More of the same is not a constructive answer.

This little rant brought to you courtesy of the newsroom turtles who responded to this post and this post. You guys aren’t impressing me with your intransigent response to change. I haven’t yet heard an intelligent argument from the newsroom turtles on why we should settle for hunky-dory thinking.

And this post from Jack Lail is worth reading, too.

I’m not giving up. And I’m not going to stop fighting for better ways to do things.

It’s adapt or die, and I’m not ready to see good journalism get killed off. If the newsroom turtles don’t want to change, that’s a shame, but we can’t just give up without a fight. The value of journalism to society is just too important.

UPDATE: More evidence from Lucas Grindley of newsrooms getting in the way of change and progress. Lucas intelligently suggests that disruptive initiatives be taken out of the newsroom, but this concerns me on two fronts. First, we need our newsrooms to be part of the solution, because they are smart people with good values. Second, the content we produce is so important to building community. To me, we need to figure out a way to make it work, not reflectively work outside our strongest structure.

Also, check out the second comment on this Yelvington post from a veteran newsman who gets it — gets that he doesn’t know all there is to know about online, and is willing to listen to others for suggestions. My only contention — it isn’t about age. Look at the gray hair on that Yelvington mug shot. Steve is one of the smartest innovators in the business, inside or outside of newspapers. It isn’t about age. I’ve conversed with many twentysomething reporters who have hard turtle shells. It isn’t about age. It’s about getting that online is different from print.

UPDATE II: Another thought: How can you spot a newsroom turtle? They characterize calls for posting stories online fast and frequent as something than less than quality journalism. The reality is, nobody who has ever called for more frequent updates has ever suggested that posted stories be anything less than well vetted. Newsroom turtles fear change, and anything that may lead to change is derided on the smallest of pretenses.

40 thoughts on “We can’t let the newsroom turtles impede progress

  1. Dude, what on Earth are you talking about? Anyone who isn’t in lockstep with your vision for how to adapt to technological evolution is “against change”? Give me a break. This is ludicrous.

    On the one hand, we have the mossback newsroom managers who wouldn’t believe us for the past few years when we told them that we needed to do a lot more with our Web presence than just a nightly copy dump, and on the other hand we have the techno-zealots who want us to dive blindly into the blovial blogospheric blight. Somewhere in the middle lies a prudent strategy.

  2. “The reality is, nobody who has ever called for more frequent updates has ever suggested that posted stories be anything less than well vetted.” -HO

    Ha! That’s really funny. I’m sorry, until you wrote that particular joke, I didn’t realize this blog of yours is actually a satirical parody of blogo-zealotry. You really had mean goin’ there, friend. Well done!

  3. Well, I’ve submitted an XHTML link several times here in answer to your request for proof, but your system isn’t accepting it. The system just keeps telling me that it’s a duplicate submission, but the comment does not appear. What’s up with that? Are XHTML links not allowed? That would be ironic.

    Let’s try it like this:

  4. OK, what gives? You asked for proof, but your system isn’t allowing me to post links in response that that request.

  5. “… to that request …”
    That’s what I get for typing at the exact moment the Yankees are completing their collapse.

  6. Well, I just tried a fourth or fifth different way to post the link, including just pasting the bare URL, and your system is having none of it. It all just disappears into the ether without explanation. I can’t see wasting any more time on this.

  7. No, the ‘Boys won a thrilla!

    … Seriously, links aren’t posting.

    “Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that!”

  8. After shutting down and heading to bed, I realized your posts might have been caught by anti-spam technology.

    They’re up now.

    Let’s see — one anonymous, uncorroborated post in an online forum is what you’re using to support your claim that “web-first publishing” leads to lowered journalistic standards.

    I’m not saying this particular example is not true, but …

    To me, journalistic standards mean: It is accurate and fair? You don’t need a copy editor, per se, to make that call. Editors are important, and they help and should be an essential part of the process, but you also need to have reporters you can trust, or they shouldn’t be working for you.

    That said, in our organization, I expect everything to get at least one read by another journalist (if an editor isn’t available, grab the reporter next to you or call somebody at home) before posting a story online, as a matter of course.

    That said, on 9/11, I posted a breaking news to the site I worked for at the time with no editor involved. Why? Because the story was too big to wait.

    But again, on a daily basis I expect journalists reporting for the web to apply rigorous standards. But we have a critical, strategic imperative to keep the site fresh. There is no alternative if we want to survive.

    See, when I asked for proof, I expected you to come back with the smoking-gun memo from some executive on Romenesko saying “just put up any old crap” (as some critics have artfully phrased the call for web-first publishing). Or that you would find some newspaper/media blogger making that statement.

    Instead, you provide an uncorroborated, anonymous comment.

    I’m not saying it’s not true, just saying … kind of hard for you to be a critic of all this blog stuff when what you produce as “proof” is no better sourced than what you accuse others of supplying.

    I just find it terribly ironic that your “proof” comes from an online forum that allows anonymous comments, especially considering your over the top reaction to my previous statement.

    Most importantly, by implication, you are accusing me of preaching such non-sense, and no where will you find a comment or blog post from me saying “just put up any old crap.”

  9. Well, Howard, I guess if you’re going to backpedal and mischaracterize what you had written a few minutes earlier, and mischaracterize what I wrote in response, and then mischaracterize relevant information that refutes your initial claim, it’s going to be pretty hard to have a useful discussion.

    You seem like a decent guy, and I’m sure you mean well. I don’t doubt that you care about keeping good journalism alive and well. I think we just disagree a little about how to do that.

  10. … And if your own policy is — as you yourself state — that copy gets “at least one read by another journalist” before being published, right there you’ve openly embraced “lowered journalistic standards” for Web-first publishing. You don’t need to try to devalue the evidence that I linked to; you supplied your own self-defeating evidence.

    I whole-heartedly support Web-first publishing and have for a long time, but Web-first news needs to meet the same rigorous standards as print news. Otherwise we’re no better than a Fox News “live” helicopter feed from some 2-bit affiliate showing a police chase for two hours, complete with endless speculation and rumor about who’s in the car and what they might be wanted for and, gee, I sure hope the car crashes — that would be interesting.

    OK. Have at it, friend. Turtle out.

  11. Peter:

    I’m in the soup with you, turtle.

    It all went to hell with the invention of that Gutenberg guy. When monks did it with pen and ink, they never missed a thing in copying those texts because they were focused on what they were doing.

    They created things of beauty; works of written art.

    Have you ever seen a printing press focus? Presses waste more paper in an hour than a monk uses in a year. And the infidels who use such devices will actually change things in the same edition! They’ll get you one version and then “fix it” for later customers. Unbelievable!

    And we all know, candlelight gives off the best glow for editing and is better for the eyes. When the monks did it, nobody had to wear contacts.

    Tell Howard he can keep his newfangled ideas of how work flows and processes might be improved to himself.

    The soup’s just fiine.

  12. Peter, I don’t think I’ve misscharacterized a thing and hit the nail on the head.

    Nor have I said anything that could reasonable be called applying any less a rigorous standard.

    Jack, you crack me up.

  13. Wow. I just read through some of the 73 responses to your 12 ideas and my head is starting to hurt.

    Let it be said now (to some of those posters and others I have talked to before): NOT ALL BLOGS ARE THE SAME! Not all of them are opinion. Not all of them are about what I ate for dinner last night. A blog is just a medium like TV, a book, etc. I could use one to show pictures of my cat Sprinkles or my reporting from war-torn Afghanistan.

    Also, just because you update your news Web site hourly, doesn’t mean you are engaging in idle speculation. Wire services have been doing hourly (or minutely) updates for years, long before the Internet. They have done it responsibly. We can/do/will too.

  14. Oh goodie, looks like Howard’s amen corner has arrived at last.

    So Jack, you’re in the soup with Howard’s assumption that anyone who isn’t in lockstep with his personal vision for how to use new technologies is “against change”? That’s so sweet.

    Say, when you guys in your little blog circles take turns leaving glowing comments for one another like a row of nodding bobbleheads, do you think maybe y’all might be getting just a slightly distorted perspective about the veracity and utility of your opinions?


    “Would anybody say AP doesn’t have high journalistic standards?”

    Yes, as a matter of fact, a great many people who actually work with raw AP copy will confirm that it often fails to meet proper journalistic standards. AP copy frequently arrives in unpublishable condition, yet a lot of news Web sites slap it up anyway without even reading it. It’s not unusual at all for an AP bureau to be staffed by a single overworked person, so a lot of the stories that go out on the wire are unedited, other than whatever time the lone AP staffer might have had to read back over his own work.

  15. Hey, I wanna move the city desk into the middle of Times Square, because we can do it now that we have wifi technology. … What? You don’t wanna go along with using that new technology? … But we’ll give them umbrellas! … Oh, you know what you are? You’re a, you’re a … you’re against change! That’s what you are – you’re like a 15-century monk, yeah, that’s it! … Can I have my milk and cookies now?

  16. Oh, I think you’re being too hard on yourself. Chin up, buckaroo. Maybe you just need to get out more, or get a hobby. Your friend Jack takes pictures of his cat and listens to Steve Winwood music. Maybe you’d like to try stuff like that instead of staring at that old computer screen all day. Wadda ya say?

  17. Hollywood, 1953:
    “Screenwriting? Plot? Who the hell cares about all that crap? People want to see movies in 3d, damn it. They don’t care about what’s actually on the screen, just as long as it jumps out at them. Oh, you just don’t get it.”

  18. The Internet is a medium. My generation (us crazy kids aged teens to mid-30s) don’t read newspapers. Never will. We have switched from one medium (printed paper) to another (the innerWebs). It’s not a fad. Interestingly enough, we’re proving this by this incessant debate…You can have quality journalism on this medium. A story is still a story, it’s just a matter of finding the best way to tell it.

  19. Exactly, Nick.

    It doesn’t have to be a debate between good-content-via-old-media vs. crappy-content-via-new-media.
    There’s no reason why we can’t provide good content via new media. Technological advancement makes it easier to do that, not harder. Unfortunately, it seems the people at the helm of online news these days don’t see it that way.

  20. Wow, what the hell was all that? It was like an old debate rose from the dead. Does posting breaking news erode journalistic credibility? No, because not posting breaking news erodes your credibility with readers who expect news delivered fast.

    Maybe it’s just me. But it seems the online crowd’s level of frustration with the newsroom “turtles” is only growing. What I’m concerned about is whether that is a reflection of the online crowd’s inability to breakthrough to these people, or if it’s a reflection of our increased self-assuredness. In other words, we know we’re right and are just sick of debating it, or we know we’re right and are sick of losing the debate.

    Maybe it’s a reflection of the sense of urgency, which is increasing as more and more people are laid off.

  21. Copy editors should approach this issue with a little bit of humility. Let’s not act like professional copy editors have never let some dumb thing into print. Let’s stop treating online like the bad part of town.

    Anybody who has ever wanted to fix a story for an edition that has left the building should be rushing to get their hands on these new powers, to be able to go back to a story and keep making it better. That’s golden for an editor.

    That’s my quick take. The much longer version is here.


  22. Lucas:
    No one here has opposed the posting of breaking news. Don’t conflate breaking with reckless. That’s a misconception that both extremes in the Web-first debate keep making, in their own different ways.

  23. @Lucas — We’re right and we’re sick of debating it, and the urgency is too great to keep debating it. The evidence is just too overwhelming to continue having this debate. We know what works and what we should be doing. If we, as an industry, don’t reform ourselves, we won’t survive. And time is running out.

    @ Brian, good comment and good post.

    @ Peter, on the web there is no such thing as breaking news. “Breaking” means that you’re breaking out of the normal news cycle and providing a story off deadline or not part of the regularly scheduled broadcast. On the web, there is no schedule. You post stuff as it becomes news.

  24. I can’t stop chuckling when I read these comments.

    The twilight of the curmudgeon class (that’s my version of “we can’t let the newsroom turtles impede progress…”) is turning out to be better entertainment than I anticipated. And I think they deserve everything you are giving them, Howard, plus a bit more.

    What’s so funny? Howard suggests in his original post that newsroom attitudes rising from the production routine that print-on-paper demanded should be re-thought and the curmudgeons come along and change that into: put it up fast, whether it’s true or not! Then he says: uh, that’s not what I meant or wrote, and the curmudgeons say: yes it is, Howard! And even if you didn’t say “put it up fast, whether it’s true or not,” others do say that and we’re hoppin’ mad at them! Oh, and bloggers suck! But don’t use my name!

  25. Hey everybody, Serfmaster Jay has arrived! Now it’s a party.

    So, let’s put this all together into one big blogoriffic scheme: “Citizen journalists” will post news onto the Web as soon as they “know” something. There will be no credible editing, because that just gets in way of the brave-new-world juggernaut agenda. The only people who will receive any pay or health care coverage will be the bosses and the academics who designed and control the system. Gee, that’s gonna be great for journalism and democracy.

  26. Ohhhh: Excellent with the brave new world cliche, adds a nice musty touch.

    I think it’s nifty too the way you slipped in “no editing” so you can include all the people in journalism and J-schools who definitely believe in that.

    Something you left out, “Remember the paperless office? We’re still waiting on that one!” Haw, haw. Next time you play curmudgeon slip that in, Peter. It’s devastating!

    Don’t forget to decry navel-gazing in the news business and “the thumbsucker.”

    Do remind us of the need for Good Old Fashioned Shoe Leather Reporting or we won’t know who we’re dealing with.

    Afflict the comfortable and comfort the…

    Great Ceasar’s ghost!

    Get me rewrite!

  27. “On the web there is no such thing as breaking news.” – HO

    That’s ridiculous. The reporting and editing staff of an online news operation MUST be built around the concept that there is breaking news and non-breaking news. The big breaking stuff takes priority, and you put the other stuff aside to work on the breaking stuff. Otherwise you’re either wasting a lot of time or not covering news that ought to be covered. It’s a fairly simple matter of allocating resources wisely.

  28. Jay, you seem to be responding to voices that the rest of us can’t hear. Better get that looked at. I say this as a friend.

  29. So news is news? Part is parts?

    Commoditizing the news and squandering hard-earned journalistic credibility is not a sustainable model for our profession or, for that matter, our constitutional liberties.

    Differentiating the news coverage and maintaining high standards for accuracy and fairness might, just might, yield a sustainable self-funding model going forward. If not, let’s take a closer look at the NPR and BBC models for possible solutions. Some of us are doing that already.

  30. This is a discussion of value.

    Late to the conversation. I moved – haven’t had Internet for about 15 days, but read newspapers :-)

    Howard comes at this from the POV of what makes a Web site, an industry work. Many – but certainly not all – of those commenting are talking about how they want to work and what they value in their jobs. They shouldn’t necessarily care about the health of an industry if they perceive its standards falling. Why would they want to be a part of something they consider, lesser?

    They value the practical. They want to be proud of the job they do.

    It’s hard to say whether the following is true, but those who value truth, hard facts and the nuts and bolts of investigative stories it seems to me will become very rare. And, of course, they already are rare in the majority of places as the bottom line becomes the bottom line.

    This begs the larger question of what the audience wants … which we’ll leave quietly for now even though it hits the heart of this whole discussion.

    The Web is an exciting place. It also brings a lot of false hope. But it truly is only a medium and on this I think we all agree.

    That doesn’t mean the two worlds don’t exchange eclipses. Certainly there are bloggers who bring a lot to the table, who inform their readers in ways they could not otherwise, who bring the local in ways that are hands down informative and entertaining. But their number is often exaggerated by the “followers.” The ratio of quality to good is not good. And people who fail to acknowledge that are frustrating as well and it’s tiring to debate that.

    In the age of self-absorption what blogs have most offered is opinions. And opinions and speculation from the base of facts – no matter how hard they were to obtain – are valued higher.

    There is a septic air of false, arrogant gloating from Jay and Howard here as they do exactly what they accuse working journalists of doing. Being snide and offensive in their defense.

    As far as the state of news and information, they may be correct, but there’s a lot more wrong out there in bloggerland than they seem to care to admit.

    (Separate point)
    The importance of the permanent quality of newsprint for the historical record over the digital is often overlooked. The digital can be changed at whim and unannounced. Can be done and is.

  31. […] Right now I’m working hard to expand my skill set to prepare for the big changes I see coming for the news industry. If I were 20 years older, I would probably make do with what I got, but I’m not, so I won’t. Newsroom turtles are the ones who say their job is good enough, thank you very much. Young journalists are having a lot of trouble securing new training opportunities and outlets for the skills they do have. There is simply too much bureaucracy built into the system to allow unimpeded progress. If it were up to me there would be mandatory involvement of staffers under the age of 25 on every project, redesign and web development. These are the folks who will shape the future. […]

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