Nostalgia is not a viable approach to journalism (part 267)

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Journalistic nostalgia

Yesterday, a rather depressing story about journalism training appeared on the Press Gazette site. It wasn’t depressing because of the headline finding:

The top four most important skills cited by editors were: writing, finding news stories, interviewing and legal knowledge

As Joanna Geary pointed out in the comments, that has a definite “Pope revealed to be Catholic” element. No, it was this addendum:

at the bottom of the list came social media, web skills and interaction with readers

Oh, goodness. The fact that interaction with readers is so low would have horrified me, even if the rest wasn’t in there. Building a relationship with the readers is fundamental to supporting the long-term success of any journalism enterprise of whatever type, and showing that level of disdain for the people who support your business is alarming to say the least. The platonic ideal of journalism may be a wonderful thing to strive for, but that and a couple of quid will buy you a cup of coffee if you fail to serve and understand your readers.

Now, there’s something to be said for separating the core skills of journalism – which are pretty much the four things outlined in the first quote above – from specific means of expression. If you teach journalists those, you prepare them to work in any medium: print, digital, broadcast, whatever. I was certainly big on the idea of unpicking the core skills of journalism from the specific elements that were a product of print’s workflow (350 word inverted pyramid, I’m looking at you…) But that, in a very real sense, is 2008’s argument, if only because that last time that was even in question was last decade. The world has moved on since then, as Alison Gow nails in her response to the piece:

I wholeheartedly agree that finding stories, interviewing, local knowledge, are fundamental skills for anyone who wants to report (whether that’s in msm or otherwise). But here’s the thing; why would any editor say these were more important than social media, web skills and interaction? Why would any editor not understand that these are intrinsic to finding stories, interviewing and local knowledge?

Trying to separate working a beat from social networking and the web is pretty much like trying to separate it from using the telephone: ridiculous. But the problem is that anything new has this vague sheen of “techie” that people seem to use as an excuse not to move beyond their comfort zone – and there’s plenty of evidence of that in the comments on the original post.

This discussion has to move on. We have to stop seeing the web and the tools it offers as something “new-fangled” and “for techies”, but just as a new set of tools that allows us to find, research and publish stories. The web makes journalism bigger, not smaller. And we should be celebrating that, not hiding from it.

Update: Andy Dickinson identifies another reason editors de-prioitise web skills:

Because they are seen as a way of getting content out there not getting content in or helping with the journalistic process. They will always be less important than getting the paper/programme out.

And that’s a good point. People are still missing that the web can be a conversational medium as much as an broadcast one.

digital journalismJournalismpress gazetteskillsSocial Mediatraining

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.