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 Del.icio.us. 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.)

  • I wrote a similar article, posing 7 challenges to journalists (giving due credit to Howard Owens), in Dutch, on the Nieuwe Reporter. Google translates it to this (with many (sometimes hilarious) errors, but readable) in English.
    The few journalists who responded in the comments below, though, stated all those web nonsense is a waste of time and does not add anything to journalism.

  • From a training perspective, doing this stuff is incredibly easy. Even those with very little technology skills can handle doing the things on this list. A days training (or less) is all it takes.

    The key, though, is to show them how this all relates to their daily routines. Ask the reporters what time wasters, hurdles and annoyances they’ve run into and show them how these technologies can solve (or help solve) their problems.

    I’m sold on Howard’s plan not because I think these technologies are necessary for the future survival of newspapers (at least not on the reporter level), but because knowing–even just a little–about various Web services and how they interact adds to a reporters vocabulary when trying to simplify a complex issue. This type of training becomes immediately useful if retained and applied.

  • Martin Balfour

    “that’s why they were their”

    I find such glaring typos ironic when you criticize others.

  • At first, I thought, “Wow – what a great training idea for my field!” (basic adult literacy and education).

    But then I wondered about the suitability of some of the tasks. Joining most social network sites, for example, involves sharing / posting at least some personal information on somebody else’s servers. That may be an inappropriate ask for an employer mandated training session.

    I guess people could create fake identities to use during training, and then re-register with any tools or services they wanted to continue to use.

    Still, it may be worth noting that, say, learning to “use” Facebook may expose learners in a way that learning to use a desktop tool (Word, Paint, etc.) does not.

  • Irony? Hmmm, I just see a typo you helped me fix. Thanks.

  • Hands-on is always so much more effective than a mere lecture and demonstration. I’m baffled at how many newsrooms want me to come in and give a lecture and demo instead of what I could do, which is really teach them how to produce this stuff!

    But I know why they prefer hands-off: They do not have training rooms; they do not have a stock of laptops to provide to the participants in the workshop; the reporters and others do not have their own laptops (as incredible as that is).

    Is this a case of “for want of a nail, the battle was lost”?

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  • As always, thanks for the link, Jeff.

    Ryan Sholin, Zac Echola and myself have started a new site (based on Ning) to provide help to journalists looking to improve their wired literacy.

    It’s called: wiredjournalists.com.

    The idea for the site grew out of the objectives post.


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