Great newsroom training manual; use with care

When the 130-page training guide titled, “Journalism 2.0,” was released a while back, I printed out a hard copy, but it was only this week that I had a chance to skim the document and figure out that it was written for and would be most useful for new media novices, with a great deal of value as a reference for intermediates like myself, who know something of the new tools and techniques but need practice, confidence and examples of their uses.

The booklet, which is free in PDF format, is the work of Mark Briggs, an interactive news editor at The Tacoma News-Tribune, introduces all the terms and concepts of web publishing, and most helpfully provides examples of their use by working reporters (i.e. page 58, how Seattle sports guy Mike Sando uploads source material from games to his blogs and lets avid fans help feast on the material, presumably harvesting some of their comments or quips for his paper story that comes later). Other sections show how to shoot video for story telling or which recording device to buy for inexpensive but quality audio capture.

I’m just noting here a few points of interest to me, rather than attempting to review the book, but being a newsroom guy I did give some thought to how it might be most effectively used as in training.

First the wrong way. The Powers that Be decree that all the department heads should read the Bible according to Briggs. They would probably do so and might even get excited about the possibilities (for instance the uses of “crowdsourcing” described on page 47, that is getting a bunch of readers to supply observations or research to feed stories). The department heads could turn around and tell assigning editors to read the blessed text. Compliance would be spotty and implementation sporadic. Assigning editors could also tell reporters to read the book, which a few would do but most would disdain and the entire exercise would be wasted.

The better strategy for making use of Briggs’ work would be, I think, for someone in the hierwith a knowledge of the staff and who has what strengths or interests, or what the newsroom most needs in the way of new media technique, to target some individuals for training. And not the whole booklet necessarily. Choose a few manageable things. For instance I have not gotten the habit of using an RSS newsreader to aggregate blog feeds and other background to one place where I could scan the subject lines. Of course make the whole book available to anyone who cares to go further, but I suspect that helping individuals pick up or expand skills is a more fruitful approach then dedicating a whole bunch of time to a structured and required training session that would be mercilessly mocked in true newsroom fashion. 

In short be subversive in how you use this manual and the techniques it describes.  My observation after 15 years in newspapering is that there’s nothing more difficult to do than to bring a new idea into a newsroom. These are important new ideas and new tools that will challenge our notions of how to put out the news, and require professionals with varying degrees of experience to either learn or unlearn habits. That is a huge hurdle.

One last thought. The introduction to the training manual was written by Philip Meyer, a former editor turned journalism professor and one of the gurus of the Knight Foundation, the main money-spigot in the world of news philanthropy. After suggesting that platform (i.e. print versus broadcast) specialization is passe, Meyer writes:

“As technology and media economics push us toward platform convergence (print & audiovisual news on the web), a new model  emerges: The journalist who is a jack of all trades and master of none, a person who can write, shoot, edit, talk and look good on camera with a competence that might not be great but is good enough. A good reporter would be redefined as one who is good enough in any medium.”

(Postscript: Meyer goes on to note that journalism schools should adjust curricula to prepare students for this new versatility requirement by “focus(ing) less on the craft and concentrat(ing) on basic theory of mass communications.” I will soon be taking part in a curriculum revision discussion for a college in Northern California, so if anyone has examples or templates of recent similar discussions elsewhere links would be helpful.)