Friday, June 30, 2006

Celebrating change this holiday weekend

I was talking to an old friend earlier this week. This guy is a brilliant reporter, a gifted writer and a truly inspirational editor. He's in the big time...leading a team of journalists at one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world.
And he's depressed.
My friend is convinced that he will be "obsolete" within a few years. He's worried that there's just no room left in the business for someone who does what he does.

His fear, or course, is new media. And I wish I could be more sympathetic. But this fear that something dark and ominous is sweeping across the industry annoys me to no end. I know that change is coming. Heck, the change has already come. But the change is positive. Journalism is a far, far, far more interesting place to be now than it was just a few years ago. What was once a narrow field dominated by one-way lectures and single-medium storytelling has evolved into a bigger, more open, more participatory, more glorious place to work.

Besides, as I tried to tell my friend, there's nothing about new media that's difficult to learn. This ain't brain surgery. It's not even Biology 101. It's new media. And mastering the basics of new media is not an insurmountable task. It's fun. It's easy. And it will make you a better storyteller. And I promise you -- although print-only journalists will be obsolete soon, there will always be room in this industry for people willing to learn new skills, new styles and new ways of telling a tale.

A year ago this week, I suggested that the long holiday weekend was a good time to try and catch up with some of the changes in journalism. And I suggested that readers of this blog take some time over the July Fourth holiday to learn RSS.
If you're still unfamiliar with RSS, I don't know what to say. You're way, way behind. Try to catch up.
The same is true if you're one of those many journalists I meet who can't work in html.
Html isn't that hard. No one expects you to become a programmer. But you should be able to do some basic work on a Web page. How about digital photography? Or audio files? If your new media skills are lacking, take some time this weekend to poke around the J-learning site.

If you're already a multimedia master, I applaud you. But I would still suggest this is no time to rest. New media is about more than media, it's about a cultural shift. It's a fundamental change in how people interact with each other and with content.
As I tried to tell my friend, journalists need to do more than change the way we work. We need to change our minds. We need to change our lives.
So take some time this weekend to join a few social networking sites and virtual communities. Check out MySpace. Look at Friendster. Try Flickr. Sign up for Second Life, build an avatar, fly around, make a friend and buy a house.

And when the holiday has passed and you're back at your desk, find a new way to let your readers engage with you, your work and each other.
For more on fostering community and conversation, read this piece by Steve Outing and this piece by the Online Journalism Review at USC.

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  1. Hi Paul...thanks for linking to my OJR piece. It was written with the best intentions to help journalists understand what it takes to interact with community online. It's not an easy thing and veteran interactors (like me) would rather help on that level than see papers incorporate "citizen journalism" efforts that just lie there like dead fish. The key is interaction, not more reporting.

  2. Great post, Paul. I have heard a lot of excuses ... er, reasons ... people give for not learning new online skills. I think maybe fear of failure lies at the bottom of every excuse. But no one will know if you fail on your own time, yes?

    If instead you wait until your job depends on your ability to adapt and learn very rapidly, then you might wish you had taken the leisurely trial-and-error route on your own, on weekends, back when you had plenty of time to make mistales and learn from them.


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