Posts about continuinged

Just do it

At the Guardian Media Group’s online offsite yesterday, I watched a live demonstration of the benefits of following Howard Owens’ dictum for nonwired journalists.

I keep nattering on about the need to retrain newsrooms. And I assume that this should entail at least all-day sessions with folks like me earning a few bucks for training the newsroom. That probably does still make sense (at least the part about paying me).

But GMG digital czar Simon Waldman accomplished the primary goal — demystifying all this web 2.0 stuff and making it obviously easy — in an hour-and-a-half exercise pitting teams of execs against each other with a short list of tasks:
* Take photos and upload them to Flickr.
* Make a video and upload it to YouTube.
* Start a wiki page and add links and a photo.
* Start a blog and embed the video and photos.
* Join Facebook and join a group there.
Granted, many of the people in the room were online folks and all of them cared about digital; that’s why they were there. So in any newsroom, I’d take a lesson from that and similarly stack the deck, sprinkling online veterans among the unwired folks to offer help. The sure sign of success is that these content folks got past the tools and did what content folks do, bringing editorial oomph — and a few ads — to geeky tasks. And so everyone learned they could do it. And they had fun.

Howard’s bigger assignment includes tasks related to RSS, SMS, Twitter, and So make that the graduate course. But there’s no reason that every news organization could not and should not do what GMG did yesterday.

(Disclosure: I write and consult for the Guardian.)

My heroines

Yesterday morning, I had breakfast with Katharina “Lyssa” Borchert, blogger and internet editor for the WAZ Mediengruppe, a large chain of regional papers in Germany and, boy, was I impressed. I vowed to stop talking about people who “get it” and don’t but she is the queen of getting it. She’s about to come out with a major rebuilding of her company’s online services and strategies and I can’t wait to see it. I’ll write more about it at that time. But we hit kismet on so many fronts: the value of collaborative community journalism, the distributed architecture of news, the value of reporting vs. commodity news, the future of newsrooms and how to get them there, the growth of video from papers — and unlike me, she’s not just talking about it, she’s doing it. I love seeing people who are making progress bringing newspapers into the future.

Then today Howard Weaver emailed me proudly a link to a blog post by one of his company’s editors, Kathleen McCoy, assistant managing editor for interactivity at the paper in Anchorage. Get a load of this post on her blog about building a high-school sports site:

Why am I doing it? Because I believe that community news organizations like the one I work for will soon (now, even) include a blend of us and them. Them is the people who live and work in the communities we report on. Us is, well, the fewer and fewer of us left in American print newsrooms. We need them to build connection in our pages, the glue of community. They need us to hold powerful people’s feet to the fire: government officials, school administrators, business people. We work for the readers. So if they can contribute some of the content that binds a community – names, faces, achievements, good work – then the newspaper’s reporters can focus on their role, getting at the hard and complicated truth, facts people need to know.

OK, I’m getting of my soapbox now.

I read an interesting post today at Mediashift about all the jobs shifting from print to online. I felt like I was the poster child for the structural adjustment newspapers are making. I went away for a year, read tons on the shifting world of journalism, took a multimedia fellowship at Berkeley to dip my toes in the water, and now I am back in the work world — making the adjustment. I haven’t written or edited a single story since I came back. Instead, I’ve been building Web pages, learning why they scream ERROR instead of nicely displaying what I built, and editing little videos for our Web site. Now, I want to consume Final Cut Pro and Soundslides and html and Dreamweaver tutorials in one fell swoop. I want all those skills, yesterday. Then line me up with some database management software. It’s a different world, not necessarily a bad one.

Retrain or retire

I’ve been thinking about Mark Glaser’s lengthy column on job opportunities in journalism. On behalf of my journalism students, I’m delighted.

But what’s appalling is that newspapers are not retraining their staffs in the new skills of new media.

There are lots of cynical excuses for that: The papers want to lay off expensive people and hire cheap kids. Or the old dogs won’t — or some would say can’t — learn new skills.

Well, why not try? I have been arguing — to little result … so far — that news organizations of all sorts should train every person in the newsroom in the skills of new media: how to make video, audio, and blogs. That wouldn’t take long, just a day or two. It’s that easy. That’s why everybody out here is doing it.

There are many benefits. Staffers might get an interest in new and social media and transfer over to the internet side, saving their careers in many cases. They might simply get an understanding of the new structure of media and get an appreciation for all the new opportunities the internet provides for gathering and sharing news and that can improve their journalism. They could start producing their journalism across all media, however it’s best to tell the story and however it’s best for the public to get it. And this influx of new thinking might help the organization advance and improve.

Instead, I see newspapers waiting until the budget ax falls and then they just lay off people or pay a fortune in buyouts. That’s too late to retrain. And it is a waste of resources, intelligence, experience, and precious time.

Let’s say that a year before they got rid of a quarter of their editorial staff, the managers at the San Francisco Chronicle saw it coming but took that the time to train the entire staff in new media. They could have identified those staffers who embraced new and social media and technology (allowing them to at least keep the forward-thinking ones and scare off the old dogs). They could have started to rethink their product and service — as a staff. They could have improved their reporting and distribution of the stories they printed. They could have gotten the public excited, too, about their new ways and maybe gotten some more audience and more advertising online and avoided at least a few of those still-inevitable layoffs.

Instead, newspapers are too often playing victim, waiting for the worst to happen or taking too-small steps away from the cliff. It’s a disservice to their staffs, their readers, their shareholders.

And I won’t put that onus entirely on management. Staffs should be demanding to be trained. Photographers should be ganging up on their bosses to learn video; ditto reporters. Hell, even ad sales people should be dying to learn video so they have something new to sell.

This is on my mind also — full disclosure — because I have been trying to put together the continuing education (professional development, call it what you will) program at CUNY. If you have any ideas how we should go about this — how to convince journalists that they should learn new ways now, before it’s too late — let me know.