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Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson

Suw Charman-Anderson is a social software consultant and writer who specialises in the use of blogs and wikis behind the firewall. With a background in journalism, publishing and web design, Suw is now one of the UK’s best known bloggers, frequently speaking at conferences and seminars.

Her personal blog is Chocolate and Vodka, and yes, she’s married to Kevin.

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Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. He has been a digital journalist since 1996 with experience in radio, television, print and the web. As a journalist, he uses blogs, social networks, Web 2.0 tools and mobile technology to break news, to engage with audiences and tell the story behind the headlines in multiple media and on multiple platforms.

From 2009-2010, he was the digital research editor at The Guardian where he focused on evaluating and adapting digital innovations to support The Guardian’s world-class journalism. He joined The Guardian in September 2006 as their first blogs editor after 8 years with the BBC working across the web, television and radio. He joined the BBC in 1998 to become their first online journalist outside of the UK, working as the Washington correspondent for BBCNews.com.

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Saturday, December 30th, 2006

Why can’t I be passionate about journalism and technology?

Posted by Kevin Anderson

I have had this post in my mind for a while, and Andy Dickinson gave me an extra nudge to finally finish it with this post about a student who lost her “print privileges” after working for her newspaper’s website.

One of the journos on my video course left a comment on my cross media post, expressing the frustration she feels in not having online recognised as journalism. She talks about “having been effectively banned from writing and subbing in print, it is easy to feel somewhat castrated as a journalist.”

Why is the industry still doing this to journalists, many whom are the multi-skilled, multi-media digital natives that are essential to the future of journalism? I long ago lost patience with the arrogance of journalists who turn their nose up at the internet as if the medium dictated the quality of information that it presents. I only agree with the McLuhan maxim that ‘the medium is the message’ to a certain extent. There is nothing mystical about the printed word, radio or television that makes the journalism presented via it somehow more valid. Whether it’s a quality broadsheet or a rabid red-top (British tabloid), it’s still paper, folks. Do you ask if paper is a valid form of journalism? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?

But I know this old media snobbery all too well from personal experience (fortunately, not recent) and from too many stories like this from bright, ambitious journalists who see the future and aren’t stuck in the past. They still see the internet as some digital trifle, a plaything, not as a forum for serious journalism. I understand the feeling of professional alienation that Andy’s student felt.

I am a big fan of filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and of his films, one of my favourites being the neo-Western Dead Man. Shot beautifully in black and white, the film traces the physical and spiritual journey of a man called William Blake. He comes to the West as the frontier is closing, looking for a new life but instead finding his path to death. His guide on this journey is a Native American who calls himself Nobody. His real name is “Xebeche: He who talks loud, saying nothing”. But he prefers to be called Nobody. Nobody is an outcast because his parents were from two different tribes. “My father was Apsaaloke. My mother was Amskaapi Pikanii. This mixture was not respected.”

I sometimes feel like Nobody. Professionally, I come from two different tribes. I am passionate both about journalism and technology. I am not passionate about technology out of a simple fascination with the new. From the very early days of my career, I have used technology to make my journalism better, to do things that would have been editorially desirable but technically infeasible without this new magic. Technology is, after all, applied knowledge. But the goal has always been better journalism.

There has always been a tension in my career, not internally, but with the industry. As a journalist, I studied to be a print reporter, but I chose to work on the internet because I saw and continue to see exciting opportunities. I have sometimes had to justify my credentials as a journalist to fellow journalists for choosing the internet over newspapers, TV and radio.

Why do I choose the internet? Online journalism is still evolving, and we’re making up new methods of working and work-flows all of the time. I’ve loved the can-do attitude of multi-skilled journalists, designers and programmers that I’ve worked with over the last 10 years. We’re constantly making things up, facing and overcoming new challenges. It’s one of the things that has kept me passionate about online journalism despite the dot.com crash. As my former colleague at the BBC Paul Brannan says, we’re creating a new medium and it’s exciting. But where I’ve worked, both at the BBC and The Guardian, it is still about quality journalism.

The ironic thing is that the industry is alienating exactly the kind of people who will help them transform to meet the changing needs of the market. It is ironic that they are also alienating many parts of their digitally literate audience.

To those of you who ask whether the internet or blogging or podcasting is ‘valid journalism’: We can be passionate about the internet and journalism. We can code HTML, shoot video, record and edit podcasts and write solid prose. Yes, it’s a lot to do, but we feel that the sum will be greater than its parts. We will challenge managers because we don’t fit into your current organisational chart (although your org chart is part of the problem). We are employees ready to do renaissance journalism, and we will do it, if we’re only given a chance.

As for me, I don’t feel the need to justify my journalistic credentials anymore. I can understand journalists whose jobs are under threat feeling defensive about the internet. But a fundamentalist attitude about what is and isn’t valid journalism isn’t going to solve the industry’s problems or save jobs. And telling the digital natives that they have to choose between journalism and technology is a self-defeating move by an industry that needs our talents.

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9 Responses to “Why can’t I be passionate about journalism and technology?”

  1. Robert Scoble Says:

    I wouldn’t worry about it. The world is changing — and changing fast. Those who only work on print will find their careers getting cut short as those who work on both print and online get more raises, get bigger audiences, get more advertisers, get more stories and more access to important news events.

    I followed Washington Post and Los Angeles Times journalists around the John Edwards campaign and both told me they are doing more and more for online audiences.

    Keep following your heart! It’ll lead you into interesting places.

  2. Ben Metcalfe Says:

    Man, we’ve been through some/much of this together so I 100% agree with all of it.

    I, of course, am a technologist who is passionate about media (rather than a journalist)… but the frustration is just as great when content producers perceive this medium as a ’second class’ option.

    It’s funny because if you look at something like Craigslist, print media knows it’s screwed (craigslist being a competitor to the ‘classified listings’ aspect of the newspaper business, a large income generator for the industry).

    But most journalists still don’t seem to see it. Maybe that’s the downside of the ‘church/state’ aspect of the print media business… the separation stops bias but it also stops foresight as well?

    I do wonder, though: If we can see the opportunity and most mainstream journalists can’t, then why are we waiting for them to get with the program when we could instead be trail blazing the emerging side of the industry ourselves?

    If MSM can’t appreciate what we’re doing then maybe it’s time to circumvent them.. just like Craig Newmark did with Craigslist? I guess that’s why I have a lot of respect for Nick Denton (Gawker) and Jason Calanicas (ex Webblogs Inc) - rather than continueing to bash their heads against a brick wall they went out and setup their own empire instead… with much success.

    The key is to find what would be of interest to a mainstream audience…

  3. Kevin Anderson Says:

    Robert,

    Thanks for the encouragement. As I said, I know how Andy’s student feels because I’ve been there, but fortunately, I’m not there now. This post was just as much to encourage the people who still face this, whether just starting out or having been at it for a while.

    But I’ve faced it. After the dot.com crash, it was particularly horrible. Again, I was fortunate. I was at the BBC, and we continued to press on as other places closed down or seriously down-sized their internet operations. The schadenfreude surplus by old media folks was depressing. I actually heard old media folks say: “See, we told you the internet was just a fad.”

    That was then. I do see the industry changing. There is some heartening stuff going on in the US although a lot of it has the whiff of an 11th hour conversion, a survival mechanism kicking in.

    Ben, always good to hear from you. One of the biggest challenges that media faces, especially the news media, is that their not focused on ‘product development’ and have little or no ability to roll out ‘products’ in a time frame to take advantage of market opportunities. This isn’t really language that the news media uses. But that’s the next blog post. We need some news labs. Right Ben? ;)

  4. Graham Says:

    Have you seen how the French MSM has taken to blogging - and not in The Independent fartfest kinda way either - I was very impressed with how 20Minutes - a daily freesheet - used video blogging during Le Web 3.

    http://web3.blog.20minutes.fr/tag/leweb3

    I was disussing the Guardian’s recent creation of the ‘conversation manager’ role at CIF with a French technologist last night. He told me Le Monde has had one for something like four years. In addition to managing converstaion, every week the mediator, as I think the French call him, publishes a column about the problems etc. he had during the week. Kinda like what Georgina has doen on CIf now and then (ish).

    I think and I hope we’ll see more trad. print newspapers picking up and running with the delivery methods of other blogger/journalists like Sandeep Junnarkar at Lives in Focus

    http://www.livesinfocus.org/aids/

    Ben Hammersley

    http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/global/ben_hammersley.html

    and reporters going the 20Minutes route with video/audio/text blog reports or even live interview feeds direct into the newspaper site. And, by the by, I think things like Twitter will have their place in the mix too. PS. Why is there no RSS feed on Hammersley’s blog?

  5. Robin 'Roblimo' Miller Says:

    I started in print journalism ~20 years ago, soon learned that sneered-at trade mags paid *much* better than mass-market outlets if you understood technology and science well enough to write about them coherently.

    I started moving onto the Internet in 1996 and I haven’t looked back. Now I’m becoming more of a videographer than a writer, which I view as a natural evolution instead of as a job change.

    When you come right down to it, I’m a tribal storyteller; the fat, nearsighted guy who makes the hunters’ boasts and the girls’ gossip about the hunters into sagas in return for bits of meat and flagons of beer.

    Guys like me have been using this “storyteller” dodge as a way to avoid honest work for hundreds of thousands of years. The “job” is the same as it’s always been. Only the tools and the names of the tribes have changed.

    - Robin ‘Roblimo’ Miller
    Slashdot, Linux.com, etc.

  6. Kevin Anderson Says:

    Graham, I do keep tabs on what the French MSM has done with blogging, and they definitely have embraced blogging on a number of levels. Several large newspapers provide blogging services for their readers if I’m not mistaken. Le Monde moved around 5,000 blogs to WordPress just before the hols.

    As for Ben’s blog, methinks that might be a Hammersley special. We’re still digging through the Blogs that Ben built and finding surprises.

    With blogging and multimedia, I embraced blogging because as a journalist blog software solved a lot of problems that I had such as easy publishing from the field and simple addition of multimedia that just wasn’t possible with tradiational newspaper CMSes.

    Roblimo, it sounds like our career paths are very similar. I went to the ‘Net in 96. At the risk of carrying your metaphor one step too far, some purists in the journalist tribe think our boasts and gossip aren’t worthy of telling and only stories about chiefs are important. Damn, that metaphor is one step too far.

    Basically, I hear you with respect to journalists sneering about trade mags and niche pubs. ‘It’s not news!’ they say. Tough. There might be a business model to support news in niches, as I’ve written about before.

  7. Kevin Anderson Says:

    I stand corrected by our blogs developer. Ben’s ‘blog’ is actually an older version of author archives. We don’t generate an RSS feed of them to spare Movable Type from having to overly exert itself or hammer or database even more than it already does.

  8. Graham Says:

    I see… Thanks for the explanation.

  9. cyberbaguioboy Says:

    I’ve had similar discussions in school (back studying for an MA degree in Journ) and at work. It’s really hard convincing the old media people how the Internet is “changing” journalism. Some people find tech a distraction and fear that it might lower the quality of journalism. But I often point out that tech has made info gathering a lot easier (thanks to mobile phones). Blogging has also allowed people to participate in the news process. What better way to get instant feedback than through blogs! I think there is a growing number of “believers” in the new media in both developed and developing countries. Thanks again for the great insight/article.