Like It or Not, Journalism Is Now a Multiplex Trade

Earlier this month, Bill Grueskin, dean of academic affairs at Columbia Journalism School, wrote a thoughtful argument against the concept of journalists as Swiss Army knives. In his essay for Nieman Journalism Lab, he argued that “one-size-fits-all” journalists trained in a wide variety of digital media skills hurt journalism more than they help it. Asking journalists to do it all, he said, means few of them will do any of it well.

Although I’m sympathetic to his argument, and value the fundamentals of journalism as much as anyone, I think he’s fighting a losing battle.

More persuasive to me is Atlantic Digital editor Bob Cohn’s excellent piece today on the Folio: website, “Hiring in the Digital Age.” In Cohn’s view, the Swiss Army knife journalist is a reality that must be reckoned with, like it or not:

“This transition from vertical job descriptions to horizontal job descriptions is perhaps the most profound change in newsrooms that are full of change. I can’t say whether this is a sign of trouble or triumph for journalism. Probably both. But it is definitely a matter of fact.”

As Cohn points out, the multiplex skills and interests journalists need these days are essential to a world in which barriers are breaking down everywhere. Success in journalism is not just a matter of a broad skill set, but also of wide-ranging interests and open, inquisitive attitudes.

If you’re involved in training or hiring journalists, Cohn’s article is required reading. You may not like what he says, but, sooner or later, you will have to deal with it.

Infographics: Not Dead Yet

As the one or two dedicated readers of this blog can attest, my affection for infographics waxes and wanes on a regular basis.

Of late, I’ve been rather down on this graphic approach to conveying complex information. Too often, what information value is contained in the graphic is overwhelmed by cuteness, triteness, or both.

So when one Allison Morris inquired via my contact page (rarely, alas, a reliable source of useful interaction) about promoting an infographic she’d worked on, I was skeptical.  (It was a good sign, though, that she had in fact read at least one post on this blog.)

My fears, happily, were unjustified. I don’t know anything about OnlineClasses.org, but I do like their  flowchart for young jobseekers about what to post or not on their social media accounts. Well done, Allison et al!

Are You Highly Digital? Try This Test

Ipad Face by Camila Andrea In a Harvard Business Review blog post discussed last week by Mark Schaefer, authors Jeffrey Rayport and Tuck Rickards asserted that most big companies are too far behind the digital curve. By their standards, only nine of the Fortune 500 corporations are highly digital.

That’s no surprise. But what interests me is the four-part test they use to assess companies. Could it be adapted to individuals as a way of testing their own digital chops, I wonder?

The authors’ four criteria for highly digital companies are pretty straightforward:

  1. The company generates a high percentage of revenues digitally.
  2. Its leadership has deep digital experience.
  3. It does business enabled by digital channels.
  4. It is seen as transformational within its industry.

I’m not sure Rayport and Rickards sufficiently explain these criteria, but it doesn’t matter. My concern here is with adapting these four tests to individuals—and particularly to editors and journalists.

So let’s say, then, that you can consider yourself highly digital if you meet the following versions of their four characteristics:

  1. Most of the work you do appears in digital form either first or exclusively. Most of what you earn you only earn because your copy appeared online.
  2. You generate your work on your own, with little need for assistance, using a variety of digital tools. You manage your CMS yourself, you are equally comfortable tweeting and posting on Facebook, you even adjust code occasionally.
  3. Your work is uniquely digital in nature. In other words, you are not simply producing second-stage shovelware, but genuinely digital content, shaped to take full advantage of its digital medium.
  4. The people you work with look to you as a model of digital competence. Others come to you not just for help using WordPress or sizing an image, but also for advice on their new-media careers.

You may be wondering, “Is all this necessary? Why do I need to determine how digital I am?”

The answer, for me, is similar to what Schaefer says about companies: “social media success is not going to be a function of marketing vision or budget. It’s going to rely on radical organizational transformation.”

Likewise, for traditional journalists, the only way to ensure a healthy career in the new-media era is to undergo a radical professional transformation. My proposed test doubtless needs work—please pitch in with suggestions or improvements in the comments below or elsewhere—but its intent is sound.

Are you highly digital? If you’re not certain of the answer, maybe it’s time to find out.

Photo by Camila Andrea via Flickr

New-Media Survival at SIPA 2012

As regular readers of this blog will know, one of my frequent topics here is surviving the new-media revolution. Next Monday I’ll be sharing my ideas on this topic at the annual meeting of the Specialized Information Publishers Association (SIPA) in Washington, DC.

SIPA 2012 Annual Meeting WebsiteIf you happen to be attending the event, I hope you’ll drop in to my presentation. I’ll be talking about how the transformation from industrial media to social media is changing career paths for editor, reporters, and other content creators, and outlining nine keys to a successful new-media career. I’ll also be giving away a few copies of the paperback edition of the New-Media Survival Guide to audience members hardy enough to stay with me through the entire talk.

If you can’t make it to SIPA, fear not. I expect there will be more than a few attendees reporting on the event. Look for the #SIPADC hashtag. My hectic schedule and a deplorable lack of ambition will probably limit my own efforts at live coverage, but I hope to manage at least an occasional tweet.

Is Social Media Better at Getting You Fired, or Hired?

Khristopher J Brooks on Tumblr In what may be a record for journalists getting fired for their social media activities,Khristopher Brooks was sacked yesterday before he even started his job with the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal. What was his offense? Writing on his blog about getting the job, and using the newspaper’s logo and quoting from the offer letter without permission.

Brooks played a small role in a post I wrote earlier today on the New-Media Survival Guide website suggesting that journalists should write a Firing Manifesto. The idea, basically, is to know when you should choose between saving your job and saving your career.

Though he didn’t have any say in it, getting fired may turn out to have been a positive development for Brooks’s career. In a piece in the Huffington Post, which I read after posting my article, he reports that in the aftermath, he’s received a number of job offers and other opportunities. We won’t know for a while, but it seems social media has done his career more good than harm.