‘A nerve has been hit’

Jack Lail said former newspaper editor and Silicon Valley CEO Alan Mutter definitely hit an ‘organisational nerve‘ with his post about the ‘Brain Drain‘ happening in journalism. The post was hard hitting, quoting from a number of anonymous digital savvy journalists in their 20s and 30s looking for their exit at their newspapers and possibly out of the media full stop. Alan writes:

But the young net natives, for the most part, rank too low in the organizations that employ them to be invited to the pivotal discussions determining the stratgeic initiatives that could help their employers sustain their franchises.

This is one post where you need to read the comments, like this one:

The large MSM paper I work for has had virtually 100% turnover in it’s online operations in the last 18 months. I’m not talking about the Podunk Daily News either, you’d know the name. … I just don’t understand it, there are people in the mix who really are trying to save this industry but who are battling of all things, this industry.

This comment pained me:

I have reporting experience and two journalism degrees, but I frequently have dinosaur reporters and editors treat me like IT support staff and dismiss my ideas because I’m not “one of them”.

For many journalists, ‘real’ journalism is still about the format, not the content. It’s as if their words, which they wrote on a computer, were somehow less important because they never quite made it off of a computer. Hopefully, when confronted by their own argument, these journalists will see how paper thin it is. Somehow I doubt it because they’ve held to this line for most of the 10 years I’ve been an online journalist, but one can hope for some sort of poetic justice. If they learn some HTML, maybe they’ll find work in the future.

And this isn’t necessarily about age or experience. This isn’t just fresh out of college grads with, as one blogger said some outsized sense of entitlement. One commenter is leaving a major newspaper’s online wing after seven years. That’s a lot of experience lost.

Patrick Beeson, a web project manager for the E.W. Scripps Interactive Newspaper Group in Knoxville, Tennessee, called the post “among the most revealing portrayals of what’s wrong in most newspapers. Namely, legacy newsfolk not allowing for often-younger journo-technologists to play a guiding role in that paper’s strategy going forward.” This isn’t about turning your newsroom over to your youngest staff, but it is about having the humility and the vision to know what you don’t know.

As Alan says, some of this is about territory and turf, short-sighted management more concerned about owning the change than achieving change. And I’ve spoken to a lot of online news veterans who also struggle with the transition as the flat, collaborative environments of their newsroom meets the rigid hierarchies in traditional newsrooms. Integration isn’t the problem. It’s the terms of that integration. As Jack said, “This may be just a part of the difficult transition of organizations cemented in their ways.” This is an organisational issue as much, if not more, than a generational one.

Journalism professor Mindy McAdams points to a great post by young journalist, Meranda Watling, who gives her experience of being involved in discussions about new products “that there is no way in hell would float with my peers.” (Great blog Meranda. Nice design, and I do hope you do that education Tumblog.)

Mindy’s post is titled “We need a tourniquet”, and she said Alan is:

…talking about a legion of Merandas who are giving up and leaving because it’s so obvious to them that management has no clue what readers want or respect. The comments back him up, again and again. (That persistent sound you hear is our lifeblood leaking out.)

This post has kicked off a great conversation in the online journalism community, a community I’m proud to be a part of. It’s worth looking through the trackbacks to Alan’s post.

But to quote Rob Curley, this isn’t about skillset, it’s about mindset. It’s not about age or experience. I’ve spoken to some journalism school grads who talk as if it’s the 1940s, not the 21st Century, and I’ve worked with seasoned journalists who humble me with their digital knowledge and foresight and remind me that I have a lot to learn, like Steve Yelvington.

Steve and I shared dinner and drinks in Kuala Lumpur earlier this summer after we finished three days of workshops on citizen journalism with Peter Ong and Robb Montgomery, and he told me about coding a Usenet news reader for the Atari ST in the mid-1980s. Steve’s a pioneer. Steve knows his technology and his journalism. He had this to say about Alan’s post:

We are at a critical turning point for American newspapers. We can’t afford to drive away our smartest and most creative voices. The Internet not a publishing system, a Web site is not just another channel, and digitizing the thing we’ve been doing for the last century is not going to work. We need to think new thoughts, and pushing new thinkers out the door is a fatal mistake.

Most of us are just impatient for the future that we know is there to be grasped. But we won’t wait forever. If the industry can’t or won’t do it, we’ll do it on our own.

Technorati Tags: ,

Comments are closed.