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Is new technology being oversold as the key to future newsroom success? 7/13/08

Posted by Steve Boriss in Technology.

Ryan Thornburg conducted a survey of online journalists at North Carolina newspapers, and was surprised to find that they rated traditional newsroom concepts like time pressure, attention to detail, and news judgment higher than new technology topics, like awareness of new technology and online community management.

These results do not surprise me, as we seem to have entered a new phase in technology in which journalists can afford to use it more, but think about it less. Content Management Systems (CMS) are maturing and becoming more usable, allowing journalists to function with fewer technical skills. Adding graphics and podcasts similarly has become much easier. And with each passing day, it seems like social computing is not going to revolutionize the mainstream news business as much as originally thought, with readers still preferring the work of professionals over amateurs.

All of this is good news, because it means that journalists need not be distracted by technology from the job they really have to do – cater to the interests of readers and – for better or worse – advertisers. And given their need to develop new business models that include more original content, technology is a distraction they can do without.


1. thornburgr - 7/14/08


I have a slightly different take on the findings of the survey, although Mindy McAdams articulates it better than I. This survey I think accurately records the skills that are in online newsrooms *today,* but it really doesn’t answer the question about which skills will be needed *tomorrow*.

So, I think you’re right when you say that “we seem to have entered a new phase in technology in which journalists can afford to use it more, but think about it less.” That is certainly true for many journalists, especially folks whose job is to edit and place text — and maybe some other media — online. This group of people are prominent and incredibly valuable in online newsrooms. When I was hiring, I often looked for people with copy editing experience.

And you’re also right to emphasize that original content — or, more precisely, relevant and memorable content — is more important than using technology for technology’s sake.

But my feeling is that technology is NOT a mere distraction for the journalists. At a minimum, journalists need to know how technology is changing their audiences’ habits and their businesses’ bottom lines. And I’d be disinclined to hire a journalist who couldn’t at least imagine how new communication tools could make accurate, original reporting more relevant and memorable. And — from what I hear from online newsrooms managers — the journalists who are commanding the highest salaries are the few who actually use technology to produce original, relevant, memorable content. I’ve posted my thoughts on that here: http://www.ryanthornburg.org/blog/2008/07/11/journalism-programming-supply-and-demand/

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