Advice of the Day – Agnosticism

I shared a link on Twitter yesterday to a list of 25 things journos can to do to prepare for the future of their industry. All 25 of them are solid, and, to me, it goes far beyond the journalism industry into other communications field (including my own public relations day job). Among all of the tips, though, I thought there was one that should rise to number one with a bullet:

24. Be platform agnostic. As mentioned, there remains a divide between offline journalists and their online counterparts. ‘Online’ journalism is still viewed with derision in some quarters, for reasons I can’t fully understand (but then I do live on this side of the fence). A story does not become good just because something appears in print! The best journalists will be able to transfer their skills across platforms.

It’s a little bit squishy of an idea to be considered the number one key to prepping the next generation of journalists, but it ultimately makes all the difference. Part of it has to do with linguistics, but part of it is the attitude of the institution.

(cc) Flickr user rcade

(cc) Flickr user rcade

I’ve jokingly called out editors who confused “Saving Journalism” with “Save the Newspaper Business” in the last few weeks. There were probably half a dozen editorials in major publications int he last week that made some point near this prevalent theme, including two more additions in just the last three days. In honor of the morning reading theme, here they are:

  • Alex Beam over at the Globe went all scoreboard on “Reality v. the Future of Journalism.” By his count, citizen/social journalism is o-for-eternity because of things like VuText; newspapers are out to a comfortable lead in terms of the business of news.
  • Last Sunday, Ryan Blethen of the Seattle Times brought up the outrageous abuse of the First Amendment that is conducted by bloggers on a daily basis; the future of our right to free speech could be jeopardized by online communication. Between the lines on this: bloggers can’t be trusted.

Not one of these editorials is talking about the writing – just the fear of the different delivery mechanism and its impact on their own hierarchical institutions.

Mr. Beam: whereas failure in the print-only society can be catastrophic because of the costs associated with running it, technology has lowered the cost-barrier of entry for those to experiment. You want a success of online that beat your newspapers? They took your classified section, made it searchable and organized it by the most recent posted, and they included a place to directly contact the seller on the same page. Seems so easy. Ever heard of it? It’s called Craig’s List.

Mr. Blethen: just because bloggers use usernames does not mean they are afraid of consequences; in fact, I could make the same complaint of those in the industry who fabricate and plagiarize yet do so without the protective cover of an anonymous handle, in effect throwing it back in the face of the very institution that accredits them. There is one crazy person commenting on every message board, just as there is one staff writer who may be doubtable. It’s much easier for us to ignore that crazy than you because the business is the one who gives your writer the space to be published.

The problem of thinking on one platform as the end-all-be-all is that it is obviously limiting. When you are locked in to old business models – or even a new one on a innovative channel – is that you are missing someone. To bring this back to the main point: journalists and others with a vested interest in mass media need to understand how content works above the platform.


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