Helping Journalists Thrive, Network, And Collaborate On The Web

Media companies are engaged in the hard work of transitioning from an analogue media world to a digital media world — without going out of business in the process. But how are journalists making this transition — without losing their jobs in the process? At Publish2, we’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of how journalists — and journalism — can embrace the Web.

Mark Glaser of Media Shift got into a debate with Nick Carr of Rough Type over the current state of employment at traditional media companies and news organization — and the impact of news organizations’ new focus on digital media. In the face of continuing editorial staff layoffs, Mark saw a silver lining in the increased hiring to support growing digital media businesses. Nick doesn’t see sufficient evidence to support the optimism, and thinks the number of journalism jobs is still shrinking overall.

But this debate largely misses — and is ultimately the more pressing issues — is what type of skills journalists need to survive the digital transition and thrive in a digital media world.

In a response to Nick, Mark does point out:

I also believe the traditional jobs of reporters, editors and photographers are changing. A person who used to do reporting by calling up some sources, rewriting a press release and filing it to a news desk for the print edition will likely be doing their job differently in the future. That person might write a blog, report stories, moderate a community of interested readers/participants, and edit the submissions of citizen journalists. Ditto for editors and photographers who will likely work with more part-time, freelance and citizen media contributors than full time staffers.

In Mark’s original post, Laurel Touby of mediabistro.com observes:

While many traditional media companies believe they’ll save money by pushing out tenured staff in favor of tech-savvier newbies, Touby thinks that’s a wrong-headed notion. She said media companies are pushing out talented people who could easily have been re-trained, and that training new hires can be just as time-consuming and costly. mediabistro.com offers classes for journalists to get digital training, and the site is reaching out to media companies to help re-train people, but is facing resistance.

“It’s a hard sell because media companies have traditionally not invested in people, they don’t invest in management training programs, they don’t invest in any kind of training of people,” Touby said. “It’s a talent industry, so it’s like ‘if you’re not good enough when you get here, you’re out!’ You swim or die, and they don’t treat their people that well. They don’t invest in human capital.”

One of Publish2′s principal ambitions is to help bridge this gap, to help journalists — and through them the practice of journalism — develop robust digital media skills, to make them truly web-savvy. By “web-savvy” I mean able to leverage the web as the ultimate networked news and information medium, where everything and everyone is connected, and all publishing is dynamic.

The best way to become the type of web-savvy journalist who will help news organizations through the digital transition is to actually USE the web. Nothing has taught me more about the dynamics of the web than publishing the Publishing 2.0 blog. To understand the Web, so that they can drive the transformation of journalism and news on the Web, journalists need to get their “hands dirty,” to learn how they can make the Web work for them, for journalism, and for their news organizations.

As a journalist, here’s what Publish2 helps you do with the Web:

  • Manage your professional identity as a journalist on the Web with a social networking profile designed for journalists — and designed to be the top search result for your name
  • Help sources and readers find you by showcasing your best clips and recent articles, indexed by topic, and by highlighting the topics you’re currently reporting on
  • Connect with other journalists reporting on the same topic (in a non-competitive context) to share sources, references, background, and tips
  • Increase your productivity with Web-based bookmarks and notes — access them from any computer, organize them by topic or assignment, search them
  • Share with readers what you’re reading and help them filter the Web
  • Collaborate with other journalists in creating the most powerful news filter on the Web
  • Help your news organizations serve their readers better by leveraging content from across the Web

Jeff Jarvis pointed to Neil McIntosh’s exhortation to journalism students that deep, hands on Web experience is an absolute requirement for anyone serious about a career in journalism:

Again, for those at the back: if you think you want to be a journalist, I now don’t think there’s any excuse not to have a blog. The closer you get to looking around for jobs, the better it should be maintained. If you enter the jobs market without one, no matter how good your degree, you’re increasingly likely to lose out to people who better present all they can do, and have the experience of creating and curating their own site.

Journalists can no longer be many steps removed from the means of production and distribution — this type of hands on Web experience needs to become part of what defines a journalist’s skill set. While I still maintain that every journalist should start a blog, creating another outlet for original content creation is still a high bar.

That’s why we designed Publish2 to integrate with journalists’ existing workflow, to help them be more productive and ultimately more web-savvy in the reporting that they do for their news organizations.

And, we designed Publish2 to help journalists connect on the Web. Many journalists have been looking to social networks like Facebook as a way to leverage the web. There are already 500+ groups on Facebook for journalists — but unlike a one-size-fits-all application like Facebook, which are designed for personal networking, Publish2 is design to for professional networking — and for journalists specifically.

This fits with a larger trend — the emergence of professional social networks tailored to the needs of specific group of professionals, as highlighted in the Wall Street Journal today:

Social networking, popularized by teens sharing information with their friends online on Web sites such as Facebook Inc., is now blooming in the business world, thanks to new social networks that enable professionals and executives in industries such as advertising and finance to rub virtual elbows with colleagues.

Social software design guru Josh Porter of Bokardo adds:

My hunch is that we’ll see a lot more specialized social networks coming soon. They’ll support a unique activity and user group in ways that generic software can’t, as well as provide the appropriate privacy and membership tools to keep them high quality and relevant.

Update: Several folks have pushed back on the idea that these sites are anything new…or anything beyond the forums of the 90s. The difference is that they are now social web applications, offering tools to rate, review, track, and otherwise record various parts of activities that we didn’t have before. Another big difference is that some are person-centric as opposed to topic-centric (as in forums), so different relationships are formed, you can make connections, friend someone, follow someone, etc. All of these services are different, however, but I do believe there is a general trend…

That’s why we are building Publish2 around a suite of tools and a professional profile that help journalists connect on the web around their professional work, i.e. their reporting — to share ideas and resources, and to collaborate on filtering the sea of news and information on the Web.

Of course, when Publish2 opens in Beta next month, we’re going to be going through an intensive learning process of our own. If you’re interested in learning together, please sign up for the Beta.

2 thoughts on “Helping Journalists Thrive, Network, And Collaborate On The Web”

  1. The job description is definitely changing. Journalists have an entirely new skill set to learn. I don’t think anybody denies that anymore. The question is how we will teach that. I think it requires more than just starting a blog. Engaging in and learning how to manage communities is a skill — Craig Newmark, Jimmy Wales, Kevin Rose and other web 2.0 darlings know it — where are the entrepreneurial journalists? If we don’t get in the game, the job description won’t change — the profession will.

    I still look forward to seeing what you guys come up with at Pub2.0. I hope it fits the bill.

  2. Scott, I’ve been writing about this for a couple of years and I came to the conclusion that today’s journalists need to have some of the skills of a software engineer. I call it a media engineer. You don’t need to be a software engineer but you need to know some html, some CSS definately, how RSS works, and a few other skills.

    You don’t need to know all these things in great detail but you should know the basics. These are all media technologies, they help us publish and collect.

    Most journalists, however can barely type, most use two-fingers. And they certainly can’t spell. But they know how to craft compelling stories (at least the ones that are still employed.) Combine that skill with a few media engineering skills and you have an excellent, interesting and highly paid job. Better paid than journalism, even if you work for one of the A-list newspapers such as my alma mater the Financial Times.

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