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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

And, yes, he’s married to Suw.

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Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Raising journalists’ expectations only to crush them

Posted by Kevin Anderson

My colleague and compadre Jemima Kiss flagged up story making the rounds on journalism blogs that the University of Missouri School of Journalism is requiring new students to have an iPhone or an iPod touch.

Like Jemima, I speak to quite a few journalism classes as well. While everyone assumes that young people almost without exception embrace technology, it couldn’t be further from the truth. As Jemima writes:

Chatting to journalism students is always an eye-opener, because, despite the enthusiasm and the clear commitment to their career, there’s very often a rather romantic view of an industry that doesn’t really exist any more. It’s a world of smokey bars and clattering Fleet Street typewriters battling against a daily deadline, or, very often, a rather glamorous late night gig review by a wannabe music journo.

Sadly journalism students’ romantic notion of journalism is often 30 years out of step, and they are often even more resistant of new technology and new methods than those working in the industry.

I stopped off at the University of Missouri to visit my friend Clyde Bentley when I was traveling across the US last year for the elections, and it was great to see them thinking not just about the internet but also actively exploring mobile technology. The University of Missouri is a great institution, and it’s great to see them keeping ahead of the times. But the move to require an iPod Touch or an iPhone has not been welcomed by all.

Levi Sumagaysay at the San Jose Mercury News asked if the requirement was a conflict of interest. He questioned “what appears to be the school’s bias or endorsement of the aforementioned Apple products”.

However, I noticed something else that Levi wrote about, building up journalism students expectations. He writes:

An ironic side note: In most newsrooms I’ve worked, we’ve had to claw our way to “preferred equipment,” and we considered ourselves lucky if, in 1999, our work computers got upgraded to, say, Windows 95. If newspapers survive, future journalists being trained to work on the latest and greatest equipment are in for a huge letdown when they realize that that stuff is largely non-existent in the newsroom — we just write about them.

It’s actually more than moving journalism students from a world of shiny Apple engineering to a world of outdated, coffee-encrusted computers. It’s moving them from a world where they can install and run what they want to a world of locked-down, corporate machines.

I was talking to a friend this week who told me that she had to get a permission slip signed to get a piece of software installed on her work computer and another permission slip signed to actually use the piece of software. You would think she was a seven-year-old going on a field trip to an active volcano. When I was with the BBC, I traveled with two computers. My work computer, which I had to have to access certain work systems, and the computer that I actually got work done on.

I know that there are security issues. I know that IT administrators can tell stories of the senior manager’s kid downloading a virus via some Flash game and taking down the network. But a one-size fits all corporate IT policy is not only a soul-destroying experience for a technically proficient journalist, it’s also a productivity killer. There has to be a better way than this. Train staff in the basics of computer security. Allow them to try new things on a virtual machine that can be wiped if it gets infected with a virus. But we can’t expect journalists to explore and learn about digital tools if we lock all the doors ahead of them.

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4 Responses to “Raising journalists’ expectations only to crush them”

  1. Leggo Blog » Blog Archive » Are you sure you want to be a journalist? Says:

    [...] “Raising journalists’ expectations only to crush them” [...]

  2. Glenn Le Santo Says:

    I couldn’t help but smile when reading this post. Especially as just the other day I chatted with student on a Media Studies course at Lincoln University about her future aspirations. Her idea of what awaited her when she graduated was little short of a fantasy!

    The article has even prompted me to blog the subject myself from my own perspective.

  3. Martin KIng Says:

    Kevin - Excellent points.

    The same problem with locked down machines applies across most organisations - its a necessary evil of the way IT systems have evolved and the context in which they operate.

    PCs were once the liberators from mainframe terminals - once upon a time you could install and run what you wanted but these PCs were not connected to vital systems.

    However, like many revolutions PCs took over where the previous system left off. The problem is that the 20th century operation of IT systems is not appropriate to the 21st century information age.

    IT depts are in a pickle - the risk of relaxing the lock down is far to high.

    The only solution is to change the system - offer services outside the critical core - this is where cloud computing, social media and user provisioned systems come in. The Guardian and Telegraph are certainly moving in the right direction with their implementation of Google apps.

  4. I’m calling a ‘time of death’ for London’s media industry. Episode 36. Says:

    [...] “never travel with The Man’s computer” and expect a world of “outdated, coffee-encrusted computers“. In other words: media people in traditional organisations are not getting to use the same [...]