Web people are journalists, too

Last week, Eric Ulken created this mashup of keywords used on JournalismJobs.com for online job descriptions. It cracked me up — in my short time as an online news producer, I haven’t yet had to create anything via Flash or write or read any Javascript. Most large news organizations, like mine, have a national web team to create such special features and use content management systems not unlike WordPress or Blogger to manage their sites. Sorry to disappoint those who decided to learn Javascript to get a leg up in journalism job hunting. I did email Eric about the irony, and he mentioned in reply that the post, in hindsight, sounded like an endorsement of those skills, when the ability to tell a story is ultimately the most important skill in news.

So actually, an E-Media Tidbits item posted today really kind of confirms my experience — “Web People” are journalists same as “Print People.” Hey, I was once a print person myself. From the post:

One of my esteemed colleagues happened to drop the phrase “Web people” in one of her comments. To be honest, the first thing that came to my mind when I read the term was ducks! But having been a long-time “print person,” then a “Web person,” and now, finally, just a journalist again — because we (print, broadcast, online) all really do need to just get along together.Why? Because we need to be all those things rolled into one journalist. Or else we won’t just be fighting with each other — we’ll be fighting with ourselves. And for our jobs.

But back to ducks (oops, I mean “Web people”). I think that’s a term “print people” came up with for online journalists years ago, and it still lingers — even festers. “Print people” now understand that they’re ducks, too, and that the “Web people” really weren’t the odd ducks they seemed to be a decade and more ago. In fact, “print people” now understand that ducks can swim. Ducks can survive. Now, everyone wants to be a duck!

I may be the only person I know, even among the people I work with, who aimed for online journalism even in college. But even then, my college adviser Jeff Brody told me that I needed to pay my dues and do my time as a daily reporter and cover a variety of beats (especially since another goal of mine was to work a beat on race issues). How I turned my nose up! But I’m glad that I got that experience. More from the post:

As for online production people having “zero journalism background,” that’s also historically wrong and unfair. Some of the hot type/cold type compositors and old linotype operators in the composing rooms at newspapers I worked were better editors than the journalists who wrote the stories those compositors set into type! That’s a big reason why there may have been fewer mistakes in newspapers back then: Those good people were our unofficial last line of defense.

Similarly, Adrian Holovaty has written that he thinks it’s easier to train an IT or database specialist to be a journalist than it is to train a journalist to be an IT or database specialist. Quack quack for that!

Online journalists must have all the skills of print and broadcast journalists, as well as digital production skills. They need a far more diverse skill set than journalists who work in vertical disciplines. They must have horizontal skill sets that they then practice on an online platform.

So, any hint that an online journalist is less capable or less qualified than a print or broadcast journalist is just plain wrong and unfair. It really ruffles my feathers (do ducks have feathers?)!

The other thing I might add is that web teams are not supposed to be the Point of No Return. I know that some places have relegated people to editing and producing the website when they couldn’t thrive anywhere else in the news organization. DON’T DO THAT. Can you imagine putting your least talented person in charge of the one product that has a global reach? Sheesh.