The techies in journalism are not the problem


Image via Big Think


Ever since the Journatic brouhaha began (and kept going, and going and going), I’ve been bracing myself for a specific type of reaction.

This reaction would come from a big-J journalism person, probably someone working for a print daily or someone who once did. They would say you see, this is what happens when you stop caring about the journalism. This is what happens when profits trump public service. I would be nodding along to all of this. But then they would say: you see, this is what happens when you let the techies into the newsroom. And this is the part where I would stop nodding and start fuming. 

It took a lot longer than I expected (maybe things are changing?) but this reaction finally surfaced last week from Stuart Thomson at the Edmonton Journal. Here’s the key graf:

We have to be wary about listening to tech geeks with no experience in journalism, who see a lot of micro trends but rarely see the big picture. Most of them don’t understand how a newsroom works and they certainly don’t understand how advertising and revenue in general can extend past banner ads. It’s tempting to take what they say as gospel, because they understand the ones and zeroes better than us, and we’re desperate for a saviour.

Oh really? So a world beyond banner ads wasn’t being talked about by techies in 2009? And I can assure you, it was talked about a great deal before that as well. Everyone knows banner ads suck. Everyone. Online advertising still sucks in general, even today. There has actually been little innovation in this space and techies are very upset about it, as should be big-J journalists. But I digress…

Let’s get back to those dirty techies who are on a mission to ruin journalism. I wrote some comments in response to Stuart’s post. One of them read:

“Techies” are not to blame, sorry. Techies don’t run newspaper companies; they are mostly ignored there if they even exist (again, go back to newspaper missing the Internet, missing learning aggregation, linking, a billion other things). You have to blame the people in charge, the people who make these decisions.

To his credit, Stuart responded. But his response is still problematic. For instance, Stuart writes this about his newsroom:

If you asked me what we’re missing in the Journal newsroom right now, I’d say: a writer who work solely on the web (we don’t have a single person who writes for the web instead of the newspaper) and more software people.

If it were even remotely true that newspapers are concerned about the lack of such employees on their staff, they would hire them. While there are a few jobs like this here and there, they are still not the norm in most newspaper newsrooms.

Put your money where your mouth is. You’re either concerned about your organization’s digital future or you’re not. If your only digital person on staff is someone who posts things to Twitter and Facebook, you’re not serious. If your digital people are just shoveling the print stuff online, you’re not serious. If your digital people don’t have a seat at the table in terms of content development and other key decisions, you’re not serious.

Moreover, where are newspapers looking for these hires? They are looking for them in the traditional places. They are looking at j-school grads or people with past journalism experience. Here’s the truth: journalism and ethics can be taught easier than digital know-how and intuitiveness. They can both be taught. But one comes more naturally to more people in my opinion.

If you want people in your newsroom who understand digital, who are native to the medium, you have to look in the right places. You have to look at bloggers for example. No one understands better how to build and keep an audience, I guarantee you. No one understands better how to engage with one’s readers and community. No one knows better how to follow everything else being written on a certain topic. Trust me, I know this from personal exprience. I just might have to write a book called Think Like a Blogger, Act Like a Journalist. You read it here first.

As for the software people, they aren’t that welcome in newsrooms either. Any coders, developers, etc who work in news organizations are usually working only for large metro dailies or national newspapers like the New York Times. It’s anyone’s guess how much power and influence they wield even in those places (maybe some of them can comment here). Some of the ones that are brilliant and inventive, but don’t work for news organizations are routinely ignored.

So again, to sum up, the techies are not the problem. They are the solution




  1. Anonymous July 19, 2012

    I really appreciate posts like this. Of course, I’ve worked in online journalism for 13 years and everyday I talk to my “software people” because they are the ones creating the reader experience with our content.

    I don’t much care for the label of blogger. I consider folks who gather info objectively and write well to be journalists, regardless of their funding or format.

    For Mr. Thomson, I think a good approach would be to have journalists writing for the Web first, then reformatting that content for print. The Web is the more dynamic, interesting, and immediate platform. It’s where his audience is going, if they haven’t left already.

    Anyway, looking forward to your book.


  2. Anonymous July 19, 2012

    the world is converging. journos and techies know more about online business than old sales departments. some journos and advertising people understand the disruption the web is causing more than traditional tech folks. it will all shake out. but digital is the future no matter who’s implementing it

  3. aliger August 21, 2012

    Thanks a lo for the resume examples! they are very much helpful and curious

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