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How a print guy embraced new media

October 13, 2009

I was recently asked how I went from being a print journalist to being a “new media guy.” Anyone who’s read my early blog posts knows that I wasn’t always an advocate of the non-paper format (or at least the non-monopoly format). I’m clearly in a different place now.

But how did I get from Point A to B? I don’t think I know for sure—and I answered the question just by saying “I spent a lot of time in the new media bubble (which is true)—but I can retrace my steps a bit.

For starters, the “in the bubble” thing had a lot to do with it. I took a job with my company‘s new media department that at the time was described as mainly a copy editing and SEO-headline-writing gig. So it wasn’t a huge leap. (Note: A year-and-a-half later, those two things are only a fraction of my job.) But being in the new media hub and around guys who lived and breathed SEO, social media and the rest of the gamut was almost education by osmosis. I’d hear terms and phrases thrown out in casual conversation that I just didn’t get and in order to keep up, I had to ask a lot of stupid questions and Google/research a lot of things.

Googling/researching led to reading a lot of blogs—and that was huge. Still is. Reading blogs on a regular basis led, eventually, to interaction, at which point it was a lot easier to ask stupid questions (since I was “just a screen name”). But it also exposed me to the culture and ethics of The Internet and of Internet journalism—link to people when you reference them, be social, write the way you talk (not the way a newspaper sounds), etc. Besides all that, my knowledge base reached out to some of he best minds in the industry. Where before I’d have to attend an SPJ conference panel to hear from some of these people, I could all of a sudden get inside Jay Rosen’s head via his Twitter feed, or learn from Clay Shirky on his blog.

Speaking of Twitter, and wandering back into the physical realm of my new media office, I can’t put enough of an emphasis on what I sometimes refer to as he “Dude, this is awesome” factor—those times when your friends find something so cool that you have to go out and try it yourself. No one wants to be the one guy in the office who’s out of the loop and when my boss and coworkers came at me with tech stuff, I tried it out. True, a lot of times, it was like watching a kid learn to ride a bike on a bike that was way too big for him, but I learn by screwing up.

Lastly—and I can’t emphasize this one enough—I started blogging. Once you start running your own blog and watching the ebbs and flows in your Web traffic, you start to realize that a lot of this stuff that bloggers talk about (again, linking, commenting back, etc.) actually matters and has a positive effect on traffic (and—oh, yeah—isn’t made up). No, journalism isn’t all about traffic, but it’s at least a little bit about traffic and a little bit about getting a good word-of-mouth going on your site. You also start to realize how much fun the new rules are. It’s cool to hear from other people or see them dovetail off one of your blog posts.

Oh yeah, one other thing helped: being outside the Old Media bubble. Sadly, that’s right where a lot of newsrooms are (which leads to no end in frustrations for the one new media person in the room) and that’s where they’ll probably stay, maybe to the point of their own demise. The situation isn’t that hopeless by and large and I think a lot of us are optimistic that things will change, but I know there’s a sense of urgency among those tasked with changing people’s minds. Those people are smart enough to know that things don’t happen overnight, but…well, maybe my experience could be useful in coming up with some new ideas.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2009 6:08 am

    As another old print guy (who was in print way longer than Paul), I’d have to agree: Getting outside the old media bubble is very important. If you’re focused on print’s production needs and schedule, it makes it very hard to see the possibilities for new media.

    Not every old print guy is reluctant to get into new media. I practically had to force my way in to the new media department. My old media skills were too valuable to let go and it was only when I was offered another job outside the paper that I was able to get onto our web site where many of my print skills (writing, editing, photography, design, coding for our typesetting system, computer troubleshooting) turned out to be very valuable.

    I thought that the web folks were having all the fun …and they were! How often do we get a chance to invent a whole new way of delivering news and information? I wanted in on it!

    Like Paul, I had to learn lots of new terminology and ways of thinking. And, like him, I found that the best way to get into new media is to blog (I’m now operating a neighborhood news blog on Neighborlogs now while making my living doing non-news stuff). I was dragged onto social networking sites and found that Twitter was not only interesting (I keep up on industry news through Twitter) but extremely valuable in driving traffic for my blog.

    And, again, I have to agree with Paul: It’s hard for newsrooms locked to a print product to look beyond print’s rigid production demands to see what is possible online. Blowing up the traditional print newsroom and rebuilding it for new media is a drastic and difficult step, but I think it may be the only way to move beyond print’s limitations.

    That said, I still subscribe to the print NYTimes three days a week and I miss the satisfaction of seeing my work on paper every morning, but I’ve learned to adjust.


  2. October 14, 2009 1:04 pm

    I think you really hit it on the head with your comment about production demands. The time involved in producing a newspaper is gargantuan, especially when compared to the demands of a 24/7 news stream.

    I think if newsrooms really want to make the switch to “Web first,” they’re going to have to look at taking the burden of the print product off of the editorial staff. Put half a dozen (or however many are needed) copy editors/page designers in a room, tell them to grab whatever they want off the Web and have a print product ready by (insert deadline here). Meanwhile, make everyone else a reporter and get them the hell out of the newsroom. Equip them with mobile devices (phones, laptops, whatever works) and tell them that 90 percent of their time should be spent gathering news out in the community; post all that in real time.

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