Tools of the Trade

Journalism is sometimes called a “glamour” trade in the sense that it generally impresses listeners who ask “what do you do?” We should thank (or blame?) Hollywood for popularizing hard-bitten Hildy ( My Girl Friday) Johnson and “All the President’s Men.” Even after Jayson ( Mr. Make Believe) Blair and Judy, Judy, Judy, I still generally get an “ooohh” when I tell folks I write for a daily. So it was with some trepidation that I read an essay entitled “Today’s journalism is obsolete.

It was written by Julian Gallo, a professor from Argentina who translated his piece from Spanish into English. Roughly 70 years after Hildy hid the escapee in the roll-top desk, Gallo notes that:

“the story that is published on the Internet today is still being produced as it has been historically been produced in printed media. The author deals with the important stuff (he writes) and other people enlarge or enrich his text by adding design and content. This working process conceives the author as a one-talent person: he can only write … In such a structure, a journalist is believed to have less ability than a 16-year-old boy to make his weblog.”

Gallo goes on to argue that professional journalists should gather pictures, sounds and videos in addition to notes taken with big fat pencil (although I will attest that in the field big fat pencils trump pens because lead marks the page even when the paper is wet). But, Gallo says, “There are thousands of obstacles for all this to happen in mainstream media.”

In fact there may be roughly 370,000 obstacles to this much needed shakeup in how newspapers do things — a number derived from the Newspaper Association of America’s most current estimate of employment in the industry. Because the changes that need to occur must occur from within. Work habits and work flows must change. And while media people are generally supposed to be liberal, I think all people are quite conservative when it comes to how they do what they do. And that is one form of conservation we can ill afford.

Interestingly enough, in 13-plus years as a card-carrying journalist I’ve already seen newsrooms transformed by one technological phenomenon. I remember the day in 1993 when a former colleague, Chris Gulker, called me over to look at the Mosaic browser. Today no one in a newsroom would imagine starting a story without a Web search.

Of course the skills-revolution Gallo advocates will involve tools other than keyboards. It will also require journalists to leave their desks, which would be a phenomenal development to cure the dreadful sameness of news that often reads like it could have been written anywhere. But that’s a separate rant.

Meanwhile, Professor Gallo notes that in Web media story element need not be stored in one place. He uses Castpost to serve up audio files, Flickr to post photos and YouTube to publish videos. None of these are tools I routinely use, so in the spirit of change let me put these on my list of things to learn in 2006.

(Notes: thanks to Steve Outing at Poynter for directing me to Gallo’s remarks. In the course of looking up Gallo’s credits, I found that Chris Willis and Shayne Bowman went beyond the usual suspects to compile a list of media-centric bloggers that included Gallo along with some other interesting folks.)

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media