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.

16 comments on ‘Somebody on the Internet is wrong!’

  1. Mike Stucka says:

    Quoted for the friggin’ truth: But if you want to have more staff members learn how to be awesome, MORE STAFF MEMBERS NEED AN OPPORTUNITY TO TRY AND FAIL.”

    And of course management needs more opportunity to fail the staff. =)

  2. Mike Allen says:

    Funny that his argument on social media not being important was published in a blog.

  3. Emma C says:

    “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.” ” — nice.

  4. Emma C says:

    sorry… that was supposed to say “nicely phrased – easy way to convince folks to come around to learning Excel.”

  5. Ethan Magoc says:

    Hey Andy,

    We never crossed paths at the Erie Times (I interned there in 2008), but just stumbled on your blog in the Twitter-sphere and it’s ridiculously refreshing. Keep it up.

    Wish you’d stuck around for a full-time gig in Erie (they could use many more people on the cutting edge), but you’ve clearly landed in a better place at this point.

    100 percent agreed on all points.

    Thanks for keeping me up far too late tonight!

  6. alex says:

    the original post was so innocuous and uninteresting. i don’t get this energy expenditure.

  7. fish says:

    Great post, Andy! on that No. 1, he’s apparently never heard of the T-shape people, with a primary area they’re deep in but the ability to do a wide variety of things (and explore/try a wide variety of things) outside that expertise.

    And No. 3 is just ridiculous. Basic spreadsheets are a must these days for reporters and editors – they can help sportswriters better analyze prep sports stats, political reporters analyze campaign finance, education reporters have to use them to look at school test scores, etc. etc.

    i’ve found many of Mark Luckie’s past posts valuable, but he’s off the mark on this one. thanks for responding! (and i’ll avoid mentioning football here)

  8. Doug Fisher says:

    Taken together, I think yours and Mark’s make a valuable complete package. But I also think you shortchange him on No.2. I don’t see him arguing against using social media, but to be intelligent about it. You left out the second part of his post:

    “What we do know is that social media can help augment and improve the distribution process of news stories. It also makes news audiences more invested in the development and discussion of news, something that wasn’t possible before the rise of social media. Is this the money-maker that’s going to stem the tide of red ink? That remains to be seen.”

    In fact, through most of his post, I don’t see his arguing against any of that stuff. What I read is someone trying to say let’s be intelligent about all this, that too many “truisms” have cropped up that may need just a little leavening.

    I think your arguments are good, but your snark is misplaced.

  9. tlangford says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Andy.

  10. [...] Boyle wrote a response to Mark S. Luckie’s blog post 5 myths about digital journalism, and because I left a comment [...]

  11. Mary says:

    The top myth about journalism is that everyone and anyone is a journalist. Investigating, verifying, writing, editing are all full time occupations. Just because most people can string together a comprehensible sentence doesn’t make them writers. Research takes time and cannot be confused with having an opinion about what someone said was in a file or what one read in the NY Times.

    The second is that newspapers/news organizations were unprofitable. Before it was acquired and its cash drained to bail out other failing corporate ventures, the LA Times made a 22% profit from selling its content. The San Jose Mercury had highly profitable Spanish and Vietnamese language editions. Newspapers now make about an 8% profit because the drain on resources is largely for debt payments.

    The third myth is that there’s no need to be concerned about newspapers and other news organizations are going under. What will people search for and find if there’s no reliable content provided by news agencies? Most algorithms measure popularity, which is not the same as accuracy and keywords, which are used by advertisers covertly and openly. Myth 3A is that we the modern, savvy web surfer, are immune to advertising strategies.

    Journalism, news gathering has traditionally been supported by ad revenue and syndication. Internet ads do not generate nearly enough money, fractions of pennies where there used to be dollars. Which leads to myth number four, that information should be free. This would be true only if the work of all those who did the original data gathering, the collating, the cross referencing, the verification, the interpretation, implication and put it all in narrative, historical and contemporary context is not valuable enough to deserve payment, if it is not, then, work, but an incomeless hobby.

  12. Jrussial says:

    About #1. Your evidence is anecdotal. That doesn’t make it worthless, but it does make it limited. If you look at broader studies of the industry (mine included), it seems apparent that everybody doesn’t need to know everything. There remains a great deal of specialization. For example, some video is shot by reporters, but most video at most papers is shot by photographers and in some cases videographers, and very few papers are doing much staff video anyway, compared to staff-written stories online.
    Having visual journalists shoot video on stories makes a lot of sense, both in terms of economics and in terms of quality.
    You say you don’t think journalists shouldn’t be a “master of everything,” but if you don’t want to, as you put it, suck at it, you sort of need to master it. Or else we redefine quality to some lowest-common denominator–it might not be good, but it’s good enough because it doesn’t suck.
    I agree with Robert Hernandez when he says, “I also believe, at the most minimum, EVERY JOURNALIST (whether be it reporter, editor, photographer, etc.) of EVERY BEAT needs to be proactive in spotting opportunities to best use the diverse crafts.”
    That’s what I try to teach–learn what you can about multimedia, social media and other skills, but make sure you have deep-enough skills in something. My anecdotal experience dealing with hiring editors (and some research) suggests that’s important.

    John Russial

  13. [...] out when Mark Luckie opined on the myths about digital journalism skills. Journalist Andy Boyle disputed Luckie’s claims about what new-media skills journalists need (and don’t need) to know, [...]

  14. [...] 5 Myths about digital journalism sparked a flurry of reactions, most notably from Andy Boyle, digital developer with The New York Times Regional Media Group, Anthony DeBarros, senior database [...]

  15. Amy says:

    Well… thanks

  16. [...] journalism’. It’s still about the story, stupid.”There’s been a bunch of reaction to these posts, including a few people pointing out a 1986 Time story that sounds similar to the [...]

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