Saturday, February 14, 2009

Step Two: Being a Craftsman

“A poor craftsman blames his tools” is a phrase that I repeat to colleagues and students – and myself – and it reflects the repetition, the drill, the hard work that separates the journalist from the diarist, the casual blogger, the citizen media. The person whose living, whose craft, is not dependent on the quality of the product can shrug and blame the computer. In a world where content is king, and the amount of value added to that basic content is vital, it will be our job to instill an ability to utilize the latest technology. Ironically, here is where I see only journalism, not new media. Journalism education will separate the true communicators from the articulate programmer.

Clear, concise prose is written to suit the medium in question. The future journalist must be as comfortable with the crafting of prose for paper and phosphor, composing scripts for podcast and broadcast, capturing images both still and moving. There will always be a place for specialists, but the future belongs to the Networked – the digital Renaissance man.

Accuracy in the smallest detail remains the highest risk for any author. Misspell a source’s name, and you take a chunk out of your reputation. Misstate quote a document, and the laziness shows. No one believes the higher thinking if the basics are flawed. Sports is filled with examples. Will the reader trust your analysis of the event if the scoring of the box score is incorrect?

This is not to say that mistakes do not happen, but the flexibility of the Networked Media presents unique challenges to how they are corrected. There are standard conventions of for correcting the error. The transparency of the UPDATE, correcting a mistake, is accepted. The practice of scrubbing – replacing an error without notation – will do more to violate a reputation. Remember, once posted a digital account is always there, cached by the great Googleplex waiting to be revealed upon comparison. Don’t be Nixonian – it isn’t the mistake, it is the cover-up of the mistake.

What follows the basics is the difference in Net Media. A reporter did not have to consider interact with the customers on a daily basis. Being an editor did not require a technical knowledge of the printing press. These were the tasks of the publisher. They rapidly moving from need to requirement to compete in the information market place.

Tagging, placement, indexing, comment management, harnessing digital assets, management of information sharing relationships – these are the new advanced techniques for content production. Over time, understanding the basic technology will fade to insignificance, but these internet skills are the key to carrying a message to the community or bobbing in the middle of the digital ocean like a message a bottle, hoping to wash up on shore.

Johnson in The Long Tail made it clear that the difference between success and failure of the on-line enterprise is being found. Creating information is great, but it is must be easily accessed and properly indexed.

How many spent quality time learning to count headlines? Finding that right nine-character word to fit? Today it is fashioning the right key words, tagging the right subject labels.

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