My post today is for journalists who haven’t yet tried new media tools or new types of online content and are waiting for their newspapers to set up some type of training program to teach them how to do it.
My suggestion: Don’t wait.
Newspapers are in such crisis right now, that we all need to morph quickly into online journalists. We don’t have the time to wait until we know everything about what we’re doing; we need to be early innovators. Now I’m not knocking education. I have bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mass communications, and I support the value of education. But when you pull a water-logged friend from the ocean unconscious, you don’t have the time to go take a class in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. You need to act. Now. Even if you break a rib or two.
We have the training
Journalists are uniquely trained to explain things they know little about. That’s such a part of our craft. We talk to experts about any number of complicated subjects — the economy, investing, global warming — and we, the layperson, explain it to readers in a way they can understand, without advanced degrees.
We can direct those same news-gathering and explanatory skills toward online journalism. I do realize that you can’t likely start blogging for your newspaper without a higher-up’s OK. I’m not advocating defying those in charge. I’m saying to educate yourself and suggest to your editors innovative ways to reach readers with new content and new methods. Don’t wait for the seminar. If you news organization has video flip cameras, try one out and learn how to use it. Start out on Twitter or using social media sites to reach readers. Start writing for the Web, not just print. Come up with ways to interact with readers and use their content and ideas.
Here’s how to educate yourself:
- Ask a savvy co-worker: At any news organization, there’s likely a handful of people who got into new media early because they just love it. Sure, they wanted to help reach their readers, but they also enjoyed the interaction with readers so much that they kept experimenting. They read about how the industry needs to change on their own time and started to act on those ideas. Find those people at your news organization, and pick their brains. Most people are flattered to be asked for advice.
- Read, read, read: If you want to educate yourself about blogging and what the Web can do for your readers, read the plethora of blogs on this topic. Also read techie blogs, which offer general tips on how to widen a Web audience. My blog roll at right is a good place to start. Problogger and Thou Shall Blog are particularly useful for general blogging tips; TwiTip is a must-read for anyone using Twitter. Beat Blogging is a wealth of information for journalists who blog on their beats, and Old Media New Tricks offers hands-on advice for journalists venturing into the Web 2.0 world. Buzz Machine, News After Newspapers and Press Think offer ideas on where journalism is going.
- Ask those in the know: If you a read a blog and don’t understand the advice — or it’s too technical for you — send the blogger a message. Ask for clarification. Or post a comment on the blog and ask. That’s what journalists do to find stuff out: We ask questions of people in the know. Most people are happy to oblige. Remember, you probably didn’t learn how to read a police report, an IRS 990 form or a bankruptcy filing in college. You learned by asking sources, co-workers, clerks.
- Google search for directions: One of the cool things about the Internet is you can find out just about anything any time of day. Need to figure out how to edit video you shot with a Flip video camera: Google it. Someone, somewhere is likely to have found it worthwhile to blog about it or offer a how-to-video like this one.
- Just try it: Some things, like Twitter, are hard to understand unless you just do it. Plan to spend 30 minutes tooling around and trying stuff. Do that every day for a week, and see what works for you and doesn’t work for you. Again, I’m not saying to defy your bosses; but experiment and persuade them of how journalism needs to change. Be an advocate for the new journalism.
As I’ve said before, we cannot wait for those running newspapers to figure everything out about how journalism is changing. If we are all gathering ideas, presenting them, trying them, refining them, we will move more quickly than if just a few people are trying to figure it all out.
Be part of that solution.