Journalists: Belittling digital staff is not acceptable

Patrick Smith, recently of paidcontent.co.uk, has a post about the economics of regional newspapers in the UK and he makes the case (again) that the challenges facing British regional newspapers come down quite simply to economics.

This is not about the quality of journalism – this is about economics: The web is simply more effective for advertisers – Google ads are more effective and have less wastage than an ad in the Oxdown Gazette, no matter how good the editorial quality of the paper is.

In the post, he quotes “Blunt, the pseudonymous author of the Playing the Game: Real Adventures in Journalism blog” who defines a “Web Manager” as:

An expert in cut and paste. Probably a journalist but not necessary.

My issue isn’t with Blunt. Let’s be honest with ourselves, this is a sadly typical comment in the industry regarding digital staff. It’s not even new. I’ve heard comments like this for most of my 16-year career. During this Great Recession, I can understand psychologically and emotionally where they come from: It’s an anxious time for journalists, all journalists, regardless of medium or platform.

The digitally focused staff are working just as hard to preserve professional journalism as those staff still focused on print. I have spent most of my career developing unique digital skills while producing content for broadcast and print. I have often felt that I had to work harder than traditional journalists to prove that I’m not just an ‘expert in cut and paste’. I work very hard to know my beats, work across platforms and produce high quality journalism that meets or exceeds the industry standards of print, broadcast and web journalism. I am not the only digital journalist who puts this sort of effort in. Yet the industry is still rife with the same anti-digital prejudice I witnessed ten years ago.

It’s long past time for senior figures in journalism to publicly state that demeaning digital staff is not acceptable. Here are a few basic facts about digital journalism:

  • I use a computer for much of my work. That doesn’t mean I’m a member of the IT staff.
  • I know about technology. That doesn’t mean that I’m incapable of writing.
  • My primary platform is digital. That doesn’t mean my professional standards are lower.

Prejudice towards digital journalists needs to stop. It sends a message to digital journalists that they are unwanted at a time when their skills are desperately needed by newspapers. Digital staff should not be the convenient whipping women and men for those angry and upset about economic uncertainty in the industry.

There is nothing totemic about print and paper that makes the journalism instantly better or more credible. Quality broadsheets are printed on paper just as sensationalist tabloids are. Let’s measure journalists not by the platform but by their output.

4 thoughts on “Journalists: Belittling digital staff is not acceptable

  1. Good points though I think you’re being a little unfair on Blunt given that the full list of posts he caricatures includes plenty of traditional off-line ones too. That post just pokes fun at everyone 🙂

  2. I think it’s time we get past pointing fingers and DO something practical — such as getting content providers on Kachingle so they receive economic benefit for their on-line endeavors. I’m delighted to be able to support the places I use — and want to see many more.

  3. @Mark,

    Just to reiterate from the post:

    My issue isn’t with Blunt.

    I hear (and have heard) comments like the one I quoted from Blunt all the time. It’s dropped with an ease and an acceptance as fact so frequently that I think for most digital journalists it’s just background noise. The quote was illustrative, not an indictment of Blunt.

    @Josie

    I’m sure you see the Kachingle medallion on our site. As for getting past pointing fingers, I’ve always worked as collaboratively as possible within the organisations that I’ve worked. We had to because up until the middle part of this decade, digital resources were limited in the context of the overall budgets of the organisations. The biggest challenge has always been cultural and political and not in terms of technology or even budgets in this age where so many free tools exist.

    In terms of doing something practical, that is our focus, and Suw and I are very excited about concrete projects we’re working on right now.

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