Somebody on the Internet is wrong!

by Andy Boyle.

I don’t really know this guy or any of his work, but I think this blog post by Mark S. Luckie is, like this blog title suggests, quite wrong. He’s now the Washington Post’s “National Innovations Editor,” which is why this post of his is so disconcerting.

Let’s go through each basic premise of his, with my quoting statements from his post:

1. Journalist must know everything

One of the biggest fallacies in the new era of journalism is that a journalist must be a jack-of-all-trades, a Swiss army knife of multimedia tools, and a master of all areas of reportage.

I know that Mark worked in a newsroom as a staff writer about five years ago, so maybe he’s not as up to speed on how the standard metro daily works these days. His resume shows he’s also had various webby gigs at newspapers and news outlets. Obviously we’ve had different experiences and we’re at different parts of our career. So let me tell you about the experience I had as a fresh-out-of-college reporter, as well as what I heard I’d need to be doing in various job interviews (and what I’m still hearing what pals are doing at various journalism jobs).

In one day at the St. Petersburg Times, this was not out of the ordinary: call lots of people, write 3-5 stories, record video/audio, shoot photos (iPhone/point and shoot), help others with database-related issues and still rewrite stories for the print edition of the paper. While I don’t think it’s necessary that people need to know Flash — and in all actuality I think it’s a waste of time to learn (thus my never learning it) — and other advanced “mutlimedia” things, I still think those standard multimedia journalism skills are important.

Even during an internship at the wonderful and amazing Erie Times-News I shot video, attempted photos and wrote stories for the web and print.

I have an unnamed friend at a California daily who shoots photos, blogs, writes “regular” journalism for the print edition and whatever else is asked of this friend. The ability to take photos, to cover the cops shift, to write short and long, to write feature-y and omghardnews-y are all important skills. So your basic premise seems flawed.

I agree that people shouldn’t be a master of everything. That’s sort of impossible, unless you’re Adam Playford. Find one thing and don’t suck at it, but the journalism job postings and my own experience shows you DO need to be able to do it all with some semblance of not-suckitude.

2. Social media is the answer

We’ve all heard it before: Twitter, Facebook, online commenting, mobile check-ins and the like are what’s going to save journalism. The truth is nobody knows what’s going to save journalism. Nobody. Not even the social media gurus.

The basic premise of this is flawed, too. Just repeat after me, everyone: NO SINGLE THING IS GOING TO SAVE JOURNALISM. What are people wanting to go back to? A time when one single thing saved journalism? THAT TIME DIDN’T REALLY EXIST (Okay maybe a monopoly in classifieds). But discussion like this is sort of pointless.

Of course social media isn’t going to be THE answer. It’s just one of those things that you can use to help make more people come to your website, which, of course, helps the bottom line. It can also help you brand your product and thus bring more people to your product, whatever it may be.

So let’s all just once and for all stop discussing whether or not it’s worth using social media. Because it is.

3. Journalists must have database development skills

Unless a journalist has a knack for computer programming and web development skills, the quality of work they can produce cannot match the level of expertise of a dedicated programmer or developer. Simply put, a one-week or one-day training workshop is not enough to surpass years of experience.

Wait wait wait. So, you’re supposing that someone needs to already have awesome skills at something before they should attempt to be awesome at it? This is a horrible mindset, and I wish you didn’t have it, Mr. Luckie. This is the same reason awesome ideas get killed in meetings — the fear of failure. Yeah, we only have a finite amount of time and skills to throw around, and of course you want to swing for the fences. But if you want to have more staff members learn how to be awesome, MORE STAFF MEMBERS NEED AN OPPORTUNITY TO TRY AND FAIL.

Furthermore, I don’t think it’s out of the question to have every reporter know the basics of using Excel. It’s like telling a reporter, “I don’t want you to know how to file public records requests because we have people who are trained to do that.” No. Lame. The more people who start to understand how even rudimentary databases work, the better stories they can do. The better they can contribute to web projects. The more ideas they can bring to the table.

(Note: I consider using Excel/Access/CAR the building blocks of getting into web development, so I sort of lump them all together these days.)

Sure, I don’t think everyone needs to know how to use Ruby on Rails or ASP or Django or Pascal to throw up up millions of records online. But if you understand the basics of how it’s done — and I truly think this could be taught to most people who understand how e-mail works — it’ll open up people’s minds to great web projects. This is not a bad thing.

For more on this, read William M. Hartnett’s treatise on the subject.

Skipping No. 4, because I don’t really understand what his argument was…

5. There are no journalism jobs

First, the journalism jobs that existed decades ago are often not the jobs that are available. Journalism applicants are increasingly required to have some technical skills or experience (whether its blogging, multimedia, CAR, social media etc.) and those applicants that don’t are often pushed to the side in favor of a candidate more knowledgeable of the digital space.

You’re aware you just shot the hell out of your argument in No. 1, right?

Anywho, these are just my knee jerk reactions to reading this. Mr. Luckie  is saying that people are misreading No. 3, but that’s your standard defense when you either write something that many people disagree with or you don’t explain your argument well enough. Either way, it’s important to have these discussions when people who aren’t in the development world get basic ideas wrong, I think.

I’m surely not as experienced or knowledgeable as others, but I’ve spent most of my short career trying to teach people about why CAR and web development are important skills. Experimentation is important, and reading posts like Mr. Luckie’s reminds me of why people need to be reminded of this fact.

But I could be wrong. Be sure to let me know in the comments.

***Edit*** I was told I should’ve included this link in my original post.