Name calling isn’t going to get us anywhere

The discussion on how to save newspapers – or I would say newspaper-style reporting regardless of the platform – is getting bogged down in mutual recriminations and some good old-fashioned name-calling. Journalists are blaming management, saying that ‘they’ didn’t change quickly enough as if journalists bear no responsibility in the slow pace of change in the industry. ‘Curmudgeons’ and ‘dinosaurs‘ are fighting with ‘young journalists‘, digital enthusiasts and digital pioneers.

I agree with John Zhu that “stereotypes, labels, and close-mindedness” don’t produce a constructive debate. We know that we need get past this and get to work building a multi-platform business that will support quality journalism. However, I started hearing John’s argument in various forms about a year ago which run along the lines that digital pioneers can be as close-minded as the ‘curmudgeons’ that they rail against. A journalism professor put it to me that digital pioneers had been part of a start-up culture and now were resisting integration as much as the ‘curmudgeons’ were resisting a digital future.

I think something more complicated is going on, and I feel a false sense of objectivity and balance in John’s post. I think it obscures the political conflict taking place in newspapers as they struggle towards integration. As Steve Yelvington said to me last year, the people with the most digital experience have the least political capital in their organisations. As I’ve argued, real integration can’t be about traditional editors just folding digital divisions into their empires. That’s not to say that digital editors should be atop the org chart either. Multiple-platform journalism requires a different editorial organisation, and that is bound to create political conflict. Some of the conflict spilling out onto journalism blogs reflects these wrenching changes that news organisations are going through. You can see it in the recent ‘axing’ of three digital executives at the San-Diego Union Tribune.

Also, although John spends more time and slightly more emphasis on comments directed towards ‘curmudgeons’, I would say that the abuse that he saw hurled toward Jessica da Silva by veteran journalists isn’t isolated to comments on blogs. The commenter Robert Knilands (aka Wenalway) may seem your run-of-the-mill troll, but he expresses a virulent form of prejudice too frequently directed towards online and young journalists by some – and I stress, only some – print journalists. Robert Knilands says:

It can’t survive, though, as long as young journos are getting opportunities they are unqualified for and posting ignorant blog entries. All that does is destroy the present and the future.

We’re not going to get anywhere by eating our young. But seriously, I’ve heard this myself through the years in various forms implicit and explicit. I recently had a senior figure in British journalism ask me whether I was a production person or a ‘techie’ as if I couldn’t be both technically proficient and a competent journalist. If the ‘dinosaur’ label is used in anger, it has a context and a history. Sometimes it is used in the form of return of fire, not just a snipe coming out of nowhere.

Having said that, I agree with John. Name-calling only delays achieving the change that we need to prevent more newspapers from failing.

My best work has come in collaboration with print, radio and television journalists, and we collaborated well because we approached the work from a position of mutual respect. Let’s bury the hatchet and move on to the future together.