Digital journalists: You’ve got a choice

As I said in my previous post, my good friend Adam Tinworth has highlighted a comment on the Fleet Street Blues blog. I’ll highlight a slightly different part of the comment:

It turns out, however, that the new skills are a piece of piss (particularly with current web technology), and promoting a yarn via Google, Facebook, Twitter etc is, in reality, an administrative task rather than a journalistic one. If you want to employ a proper journalist rather than a cheap web monkey, the SEO stuff really is secondary.

To which all I can say, bitter much? The commenter goes on to say that bosses hire web monkeys because they’re cheaper than real journalists. I know that this commenter is in the UK, but I’d point out that AOL is paying journalists for its local news sites, Patch.com, a very good starting salary, much more than they would probably be making at a local newspaper.

As I’ve said quite a few times before, too many journalists waste their time dividing the world into us and them, into people they consider are journalists and people they don’t. I can understand the anger and upset about journalists tired of cuts and anxious about their future. Most of my career, I’ve worked for organisations engaged in sometimes dramatic cuts. I was at the BBC for eight years, half the time there were cuts. I was at The Guardian for three and a half years, and half the time there were cuts, quite deep cuts. However, comments like this are counterproductive and self-defeating on so many levels.

It’s just another misguided attempt to trivialise the work of digital journalists. Sigh. It’s sad that in 2011, we’re still having to justify our journalism to those who would call us cheap web monkeys.

Digital Journalists: Go where you’re appreciated

To fellow digital journalists, I’d say this. If you hear this repeatedly in your organisation, you have a choice. Frankly, a year ago, I could feel some bitterness overtaking me: Cuts, integration battles, the pressure of having to make up for a greatly reduced staff, and the odd pot shot thrown in my general direction for being a “cheap web monkey”. I realised that I was never going to win over folks like the commenter on Fleet Street, and I finally stopped trying. I finally stopped quoting my CV to justify my journalistic credentials. I stopped correcting people who assumed that my degree was in computer science instead of print journalism.

Now, the news organisations that Suw and I are working with, international and national news organisations around the world, don’t question whether I’m a journalist. I don’t have to quote my journalistic achievements, and you shouldn’t either just because you work in digital.

If you’re in a poisonous work environment like this, constantly having to defend your work, just leave. It’s a judgement call, and every place has its politics, but if you’re sidelined, marginalised and disrespected, you owe it yourself and to journalism to take your skills where they’ll be put to good use. I spend quite a bit of my time now training people to do what you already can. You’re in demand and fortunately, now, there are places where you can just get on with being a journalist. There are organisations getting past these cultural issues or aware of them and working hard to overcome them.

Worried about the economy? So was I last year. I held off taking a buyout at The Guardian until the last minute. I was scared, and I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been a few ‘oh shit’ moments in the last year. However, I can honestly say, I haven’t been this happy professionally since I worked for the BBC as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com. The work is fascinating and rewarding. The news organisations I’m working with, like Al Jazeera, are pushing the boundaries, like we did when I joined the BBC News website in 1998 less than a year after its launch. Financially, Suw and I are more secure. Oh, and I did I mention already that we’re happier? If you’re beat down and don’t want to take it anymore, just remember, you don’t have to.

2 thoughts on “Digital journalists: You’ve got a choice

  1. Inspiring post, thank you. The organisation I work for were digital pioneers, but I still feel like a second class citizen in my newsroom. I’m often approached by TV and radio colleagues who ask me to fix their IT problems – not because I’m particularly IT savvy but because I work in online. Posts like this make me realise I should stop putting up with it and do something.

  2. Kevin,

    I’m not sure where to start. Comments like that drive me crazy too – not just because of the small-mindedness they display, but the broader lack of understanding of what opportunities and challenges the digital world offers and brings.

    Part of the problem is that “digital” has come to mean in many journalists’ minds “multimedia,” and “multimedia” has come to mean SEO, tweeting, video and photogalleries. As opposed to crowdsourcing, interactive databases, news apps, topics pages and a host of other new – and sometimes better – ways of reporting and presenting information and communicating with audiences.

    I wish there was a moratorium on the word “multimedia” because it seems to imply just-another-medium to send your story to. But I suppose we have to live with it – just as we have to live with idiot “journalists” who spend too much time worrying about who’s one of us or not.

    On second thoughts, we don’t have to live with them.

    Reg

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