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Converting print journalists to new media

December 21, 2009

FBI Classroom

Source: billerickson's Flickr page

I’ve been in a lot of classrooms and this is how I’ve always thought the learning demographics shook out: 1/4 of students want to learn, 1/4 don’t care and will probably fail (or close enough) and the remaining 1/2 just want to get a good grade and move on without really retaining anything. Maybe that’s way off base. Adjust the numbers however you like, but every classroom has some mix of those three groups of people—newsrooms are no different.

My job requires me to do a fair amount of teaching (which is sometimes forced) and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that it often leads to a good deal of frustration. If we’re going by my quarter/quarter/half rule, the problem is that the majority of your “students” either don’t care or just want to pacify you enough to stop bugging them. I think a lot of us on the New Media side respond by lecturing or throwing our hands up, but I think there’s a better way.

I don’t know if real teachers do this, but I’ve been spending a lot of time lately focusing on those newsroom staffers who really want to learn. I know that sounds simplistic. Stupid, even. You’ve got deadlines, you’ve got quotas, you’ve got expectations—you probably don’t have time to coax enthusiasm out of one person at a time. But you do. Sure as you can’t expect to report on the ROI of a new Facebook Page after a month, you can’t expect a newsroom full of Old Print types to flip their mentality after six. We all know how fast things need to happen, but just slow down.

It’s like we’ve all heard teachers say: “If I can get through to just one kid….” So you focus all your energy on that 1/4 (1/44th?) that actually wants to learn:

  • Find that one person in the newsroom who’s even sort of open to some form of new media.
  • Figure out what they’re semi-interested in—video, blogging, social networking—and help them pursue whatever it is. And who cares what it is?
  • Help them along gently. Think about it like coaxing a cat into your lap—if you go stomping up to it like a two-year-old, it’s just going to run off.
  • Give plenty of positive reinforcement, even if it seems stupid.
  • Do what you can to supplement their efforts (RT them, Fan them on Facebook, etc.).

I’ll admit, I haven’t held hard and fast to these rules at all times; indeed, it’s hard to do so. But the one advantage you have over a traditional teacher is that there’s no time limit—you’re not on a semester system or anything. Focus on winning your one (or those few) fans in the newsroom and build up from there.

Jump-started from my comments in this Wired Journalists thread.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2009 7:30 pm

    Instant messenger is the gateway drug to the internet.
    Get them hooked on a form of online communication first. That will enable them to adopt ways to communicate more effectively.

  2. December 23, 2009 10:16 am

    Good point. All of my college friends and I IM’d each other rather than walking down the hall to another dorm room. Now? We’re all on Facebook and Twitter.

    I guess the gist is, then, get them to act social with each other/people they know and then turn them loose on the greater Web community?

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