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Backdoor into the Journo Club

I didn’t go to J-School. I won’t be going to J-School. Do I still call myself a journalist? ________________________________ backdoorNathanONionsFlickr

Whatchu call me?

Months ago, I was on the phone with the local police. I was talking to the Public Relations sergeant. We were discussing the recently-declared State of Emergency and what it meant for residents. At some point in the conversation, the sergeant made a funny comment and then immediately asked me not to include it. I said, “Of course I’m not going to include it. This post is for you to get information out to people.” He asked, half-jokingly, “What kind of journalist are you?” I was taken aback. No-one had ever referred to me as a journalist.

“Woah,” I said. “I’m not a journalist. I’m a hyperlocal blogger.” “You’re a journalist,” he said.

Who’s a Journalist?

People who went to Journalism school (4-year college majoring in Journalism) and then go on to work in newsrooms are journalists. I’m a writer. Sometimes I’m called a blogger, content writer, or copywriter. I list “writer” on my various social media profiles. I majored in Psychology in college and I have a Masters in Educational Psychology. My career has been in research, tech and online communications. I didn’t go to school for writing, but writing has been a central part of every job I’ve held. Writing fiction, essays and diary entries has been a lifelong pursuit. Writers have long accepted me into their ranks. I doubt any journos would call me one of their own. Yet here I go, deeper into the world of journalism. I’ve been occasionally published in newspapers and news sites before, but lately I’ve jumped in with both feet: I’ve joined the Online News Association; I’ve applied to the Center for Public Interest Journalism (CPIJ) and was granted a fellowship to attend the ONA conference in Chicago in September; and I’m now, mysteriously, a recipient of journalism magazine Nieman Reports (hopefully a side benefit of my ONA membership). These things alone won’t get me the secret knock into the J-Club. But something I read today makes me think my new media skills might get me an in.

D-to-the-I-to-the-G-ITAL SKILLZ

Journalism professor Adam Tinworth writes of the departure of a digitally-savvy journo from a newsroom to academia. Tinworth writes of the very skills which I’ve spent the last decade honing:

“…I remain cautious about the emerging trend of digital change experts being edged out of newsrooms, and resurfacing in education. On the positive side, it means we gets much better educated next generation of journalists coming through – even if some of them actively resist the notion that they need digital skills – which will aid the industry in the long-term. On the negative side, more and more expertise on fighting the battles that need to be fought within publishers is no longer taking part in that war.”

AmandaZamoraKeynote This lack of digital savvy seems to be a theme in the journo world. Amanda Zamora’s keynote at BarcampNewsInnovation Philly this past Spring covered the subject of online social sharing of news content. The audience of traditional journalists was enthralled. I was confused at their intense interest. Ms. Zamora‘s points were definitely astute, but they weren’t exactly groundbreaking. I learned her basic premise – part of your job (nay, your moral obligation) as a reporter is publicizing your content – back in 2008 at PodCampNYC. If a tree falls in the woods and no-one hears it, what does the sound matter? It doesn’t. If you post content and no-one finds it, its relevance is … questionable.

Who you callin’ BIASED?

Another hint into the journo culture is the surprise I received from CPIJ when I asked for a t-shirt to wear to the ONA conference. Apparently journos don’t wear branding, even if that brand is paying their way. I suppose j-school teaches budding reporters to do their best to keep up the appearance of impartiality. In Educational Psychology, we do just the opposite. We read a shitton of learning theory and work extremely hard to not only identify our biases but to reveal these prejudices and do our best despite them. We’re taught that there’s no such thing as objective human observation. I think it’s silly to pretend one doesn’t have a point of view. I can’t divorce point of view from digital communications. Perhaps newsrooms are having a difficult time with the transition to digital worlds because they can’t abide by the obvious slants it requires. I have something valuable to add to this space. Maybe with a little help, I can get in through a digital back door.

Your Secret Knock for My Savvy

So I have a proposition for any of you old school journos: Your journo mojo for my digital dope. I’ll tell you what I know if you tell me what I’m supposed to know. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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 Photo credits: B&W doorway Nathan O'Nions on Flickr
screenshot and photo 
of Amanda Zamora of 
ProPublica: Christine Cavalier

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