“They” are the newspaper writers, editors, and journalists — and the J-school teachers — whose attitudes and skills require a major overhaul:
Get over the whole bloggers vs. journalists thing…
…you and Mr. Notebook need to make some new friends, like Mr. Microphone and Mr. Point & Shoot.
Although everything on Ryan’s 10-point list is devastatingly true, it’s important to consider all the reasons why “they’re not listening.” In an item linked from his manifesto, Ryan expounds on the new skillset. The list of desiderata includes:
- Can you code a Flash stage for chaptered Soundslides?
- Can you edit audio, photos, and video into a compelling multimedia presentation?
- Can you manage a community of users?
- Can you moderate comments and forums and reader-contributed stories and photos and video?
- Can you build a maps mashup that feeds itself with data scraped from public records?
- Can you design interactive graphics in Flash?
Most of these things I’m able to do by virtue of long experience in a variety of disciplines and much intensive self-training. A few (items 1 and 6) I’ve never done. Sure, the world would be a better place if more journalists — and indeed more professionals in all fields — possessed these and related skills. It’s precisely for that reason that those of us who do possess them ought to think carefully about how to help others come up to speed. Hitting them over the head with a bewildering list of new skills foreign to them seems more likely to alienate than to inspire. Perhaps we could use our vaunted new media storytelling ability to tell stories that demystify what we’ve learned to do. What we see as stubborn foot-dragging is, in many cases, just fear. It’s a scary chasm to cross. Among our new skills, we should include the ability to build conceptual bridges that help people cross it.
One approach that’s helpful in all situations, but perhaps especially so here, is to teach by analogy. I understand why we focus on the newness of new media. There’s a lot that really is new, and it’s natural to celebrate that. But much remains the same, and it’s important to point that out too.
In my case, for example, Mr. Microphone and Mr. Camcorder were new modes of expression that I adopted only recently. As I discussed in this interview for the IDG, it was (and still is) a challenge to become proficient with these tools. But I probably haven’t said enough about how comfortably my writing and editing skills transfer into these domains. Editing audio and video feels different in some ways, but very familiar in other ways. The literary experience I brought with me into the audiovisual realm counts for a lot.
It’s the same story with interactive and data-rich information display. True, I bring some programming chops to the table that many others would lack, but the core skills are common-sense numeracy and a good sense of composition.
In my interview with Bill Buxton I asked Bill how you can help people adopt unfamiliar user interfaces. He said the same thing I’m saying here: You rely on analogy. By way of example, he proposed a force-sensitive mouse button. The harder you press, the faster it makes things scroll. Nobody’s ever used one of those, but he suggests (and I agree) that everyone could, because everyone drives a car with an accelerator pedal.
If we want newspapers to reinvent themselves, we might want to tone down the paradigm-shift rhetoric and focus more on how the important skills can and will transfer.