To John Paton: I’m still dedicated to journalism and I damn well didn’t quit

I woke up this morning to what could diplomatically be called a bit of digital journalism friendly fire on Twitter. In response to my post about coming to terms with my decision to take a buyout from The Guardian in 2010, John Paton, the CEO of Digital First Media and a vocal advocate for the need for digital transformation at newspapers, said this on Twitter:

Not everyone is out of energy, ideas or dedication “@kevglobal: Coming to peace with journalism … thanks @allysonjbird”

Needless to say, I take umbrage at the implication that I’m not dedicated to journalism and out of ideas or energy. Suw leapt to my defence, but I was angry, well shaking with rage to be honest. He went on to say:

@Suw @kevglobal’s post – I think is too self-serving. Large news organizations are struggling to make the changes he discusses.

Suw brought up the post by Mimi Johnson about the problems Steve Buttry, her husband who now works at Digital First Media and is a good friend, had experienced in journalism, to which Paton replied:

@Suw Which is why I admire @stevebuttry – he didn’t quit. He fights forward everyday, teaching our staff, trying to find solutions.

And then:

@Suw @kevglobal I disagree. I tire of the one-man-against-the-machine posts like this not just his. They are strawman arguments.

To which, I said:

@jxpaton @suw You’re projecting your own experience onto my post. Your comments are about you not me.

That hopefully provides some context for what I’m about to say. I know Paton by reputation, but I’ve never met the man. However, as he is a powerful voice for  digital change, I found this exchange depressing as well as infuriating. I didn’t appreciate having 140-character pot shots taken at me by the CEO of a major media company. I didn’t say anything about Digital First Media, nor did I say that it was impossible to achieve change at a big company. I just said that I was feeling more successful and satisfied outside of one at the moment. Paton chose to make this personal and question my commitment to journalism, which is why I feel the need to rebut some of his implications:

• To imply that I quit journalism is both factually inaccurate and insulting. I didn’t quit journalism in 2010, I voluntarily took a buyout from the financially troubled Guardian. Paton is straying dangerously close to implying that the thousands of journalists voluntarily or forcibly (or often a mix of both) taking buyouts are quitters.
• In the two years after I took the buyout I did plenty of freelance journalism, although in this market I joked that I did other things – training and consulting – to support my journalism habit. I would have loved for freelance journalism to have paid the bills, but we’re in a terrible media market and many freelance journalists must supplement their income with other work.
• To imply that I lack dedication to journalism because I’m not still working on staff at a news organisation is insulting. Whilst I was consulting, I worked with many major news organisations around the world, helping them make the digital transition and even launching new and innovative news sites. I’m proud of what I’ve done both on the staff of major news organisations and as a consultant.
• To imply that I lack ideas and energy… well, just ask the major news organisations I worked with when I was a consultant and trainer.
• I now work for an organisation that invests in independent news organisations in countries with a history of media oppression. I help these news organisations navigate the digital transition.  In my spare time (literally during spare vacation days), I do the odd bit of training and consulting with major news organisations and with journalism training organisations.

Lack dedication to journalism, my arse!

I may have just risked sounding “self-serving,” but this is just the latest time in my almost two decade career when I’ve had to list what I do just so that journalists, mostly in print, will accept me as a one their own. I am tired of justifying my journalistic credentials and commitment to journalism to traditionalists, but I didn’t really expect to have to do it with the CEO of a digital first journalism company. We’re both working towards bringing much needed digital transformation to journalism, which is why I found this attack so baffling and counter-productive.

The decision to take the buyout from the Guardian was incredibly painful and difficult. The post that Paton commented on was an attempt by me to work through some of the emotions surrounding that decision. It wasn’t a statement about the state of the industry as it was me working through those emotions as I, as with thousands of other journalists, try to navigate these difficult times. It was a tough decision for me to make at the time, but looking back it was absolutely the right decision. I wrote that post to share my experience, to connect with other journalists who have been either made redundant (laid off) or who chose voluntary redundancy (a buyout) because they saw no real future where they were or needed to make a career change. It’s a tough thing to go through and we shouldn’t shy away from talking about it, and what it means for us as individuals.

I know, only too well, how hard cultural change is in big news organisations. I know the tough fight that Paton is fighting, but I don’t see how taking pot shots at another digital journalist still fighting the fight helps anyone.