This week I attended an info session about Philly news mobile startup Brother.ly. My friend Chris Krewson and Brother.ly founder Jim Brady were on hand to present the idea (still very much in the formation stage) to the crowd of traditional news journalists.
When the presenters started talking, I opened up my keyboard and iPad to type out quotes to tweet. I searched the Meetup and other references to the event for a hashtag but found nothing. I didn’t even find a hash for the Pen&Pencil club Philly where the event was hosted. I looked around the room. No-one was tweeting or on cell phones. The woman next to me was taking pen-and-paper notes. I saw a few others doing the same. My confusion grew when a journo asked, half-jokingly, when Brother.ly was going to put out a print version.
My utter paralysis at this scene, including missing a hashtag or other way to aggregate knowledge coming out of the event was laughable. It reminded me of that old SNL sketch when morning TV anchors quickly descend into savagery when their Tel-e-prompters cut out. “WHERE ARE THE WORDS?!” they shout. I felt like standing up with arms akimbo, face skyward and yelling, “WHERE IS THE HASHTAG?”
I was out of my element.
My friend John Miller from content creation house Scribewise was there. He and I later discussed the difference between content and journalism. Despite being a reformed old-school newsroomer, John holds steadfast to the notion of a difference between content and journalism. I, of course, disagree. There are levels of quality, naturally, but there is no distinction. Journalism is content and it always was, and content is journalism even if its “yellow” or just plain crappy. If we’d like to speak more specifically, we can say “Investigative” or “creative non-fiction,” etc., but it is all communications work.
My view is not represented in Merriam-Webster’s definition of “journalism.” Online media outlets are not included in the list of journalism’s standard media.
The media, though, should not be the defining factor. Media are not people. “The Media” usually refers to people performing journalistic actions, but “media” are just the tools through which The Media distribute their work. That work, called “journalism,” is somehow thought to be “objective” and therefore more legitimate than other work delivered through the exact same media channels.
I’m not advocating “democratization” – that idea is a sham, meant to heighten the uninformed opinion to legitimate levels. Research and expertise are a wonderful thing and it saves humans and humankind. What I’m saying is this: today’s communication landscape is wide and vast. Many forms of media are acceptable and consumable, as well as varied styles of writing and producing. If the newsroomers are too hesitant to accept that, they’ll miss the boat.
Am I missing something? Did I read the room all wrong? Perhaps the majority of people there were new media savvy but without the presence of a hashtag or live-event reporter, I couldn’t locate them. After all, I’m just beginning to infiltrate the world of newsroomer journos and it’s possible my own prejudices and past experiences are getting in the way, but I’m just not getting this crowd.
Or maybe I do, and I don’t want to accept it. I find very little cultural difference between many old school male journalists and the men of IT. In infrastructure support and other code-dependent IT jobs, I ran into the same sexism and elitism. An attitude existed amongst IT professionals that a person like me (a woman who didn’t hold a computer science degree) couldn’t possibly have a skill set of any use. My production in end-user education, documentation, and knowledge-base building was looked down on as barely enough to be considered “IT” work.
After I got my hands dirty on the Unix command lines, designed hub-and-spoke infrastructure, and supported the worldwide grid, I slowly began to win over some of the server room guys. When the company I worked for wanted to build a tiered helpdesk, those other guys were passed over and I was asked to write technical instructions to fill the knowledge base, educate the first tier on how to determine a user’s problem and go through the steps of solving it, and thoroughly examine the measurement and statistics of the helpdesk. The skills my Psychology degrees brought me put me ahead of the traditional IT pack. It didn’t matter, though. The legacy system guys, the mainframers, the MS-DOS folks et al., still viewed me with disgust and resentment. Perhaps to them I symbolized change, and it scared them half to death.
I understand the fear. I’m definitely at a stage in my life where I wish I could coast. I’ve earned the right to coast, haven’t I? It scares me to think I must start over and learn a new field. It’s possible my perception of the newsroomers is influenced by that fear. I know my blanket perception is unfair to my friends like Scribewise’s John Miller, and TechnicallyPhilly’s Christopher Wink and Gun Crisis: Philadelphia‘s Jim Macmillan, local journos who master the online media space. Still, I see similarities between the cultures and I’m not looking forward to “breaking down barriers” or “building bridges” with these staunch men. I had to learn to code and the code to win over mainframers. I can’t cover Iraq to get in good with, or understand, newsroomers. Hopefully I can find a way to be in my element –with my hashtag– in both worlds.