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Web vs. print journalists: Can’t we all coexist?

August 13, 2008

This may just be due to my relative short amount of time spent in the Web journalism game, but I can’t seem to grasp why there’s such animosity between some Web and print journalists. Case in point: Patrick Thornton’s recent blog post, “Blah, blah, blah. Worst column ever.,” a response to a column by Debra J. Saunders at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Saunders’ column went along the “save newspapers, save democracy” vein, while Thornton’s was more or less a call for people like Saunders to be fired. “You want to know why the Chronicle is losing boatloads of money?” he writes. “Because they waste money on columns like this!”

Personally, I think Saunders’ column was a little naive and Thornton’s blog post was overly harsh. (That’s not to say that either piece didn’t make good points.)

Both pieces illustrate what I find myself exceedingly frustrated with: Old school print journalists who feel like they’re having their turf taken over by young punks and 21st Century Web journalists who think the world would be better off if we fired every newspaper employee older than 30.

For the record, I’m one of the young punks/Web journalists, though I don’t support the idea that we ought to hack off anyone who doesn’t have a MySpace page. Quite the opposite: I’m in a position with Sound Publishing where I’m helping to overhaul the company’s newspaper Web sites to get in line with current and future media trends. As I’ve become more comfortable with my job, I’ve taken it upon myself to help some of our older and/or less Web savvy employees by teaching them the basics of being a Web journalist ā€” little things like adding hyperlinks with HTML or embedding YouTube videos.

I’ve only been doing my job for about two months and I’ve only started offering my bits of wisdom in the last month or so. The response thus far has been encouraging, though. Our SEO has improved; overall Web hits are up; we’re posting more and more breaking news. These are baby steps, sure, but they represent forward progress.

I’m not saying that all this is thanks to me. Our employees are going out and learning the ‘Net themselves, too. That’s the point, though: People who are unfamiliar and ā€” yes ā€” in some cases uncomfortable with the Web are embracing it and using it to make our product better.

So to the Debra J. Saunderses of the world: I don’t know whether or not newspapers are dying, but the Web is where your readers are, so it’s probably best to try and make it work.

And to the Patrick Thorntons of the world: Some of the older crowd may be slow to pick up the Web, but a lot of them are damn good journalists and are worth the time to be schooled in new ways of reporting.

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