Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lessons from the transition into 'Digital First' journalism

I feel fortunate to be a professional journalist right now. I've had the chance to experience:

  • traditional journalism, where my daily newspaper only put on story on the web per week and the process of reporting and news judgment was completely print-focused (Reporter-Herald, 2000-01); 
  • the rocky transition into digital (where I heard journalists say things like, "I don't have a Twitter because I don't like Twitter" -- as if that's an acceptable explanation!); 
  • and some of the nation's bravest and most exciting experimentation in digital journalism -- even at great risks (the Thunderdome project, which has come to an end but was by no means a failure, using my favorite definition of success, as stated by the wise author Earl Nightingale: "Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal").
The lessons are endless and ongoing, but here are a few that have helped shape my career and and values:

  • Don't be afraid -- to ask questions, experiment, offer suggestions. Don't be afraid to fail.

    Because you cannot fail if you set your eyes on a goal and continue to push toward it. The only way to fail is to flounder about with no vision, no imagination, no roadmap, no captain at the wheel. Replace your fearful, negative thoughts with positive ones. Stop limiting yourself.

    Fear is the greatest enemy of positive change. I hear it often in newsrooms, usually masked under cynicism, resentment and complaints. But ultimately, we are all afraid. We're afraid that if we don't change enough, fast enough or in the right away, we will lose this thing that means so much to us. So many journalists jump ship, for fear of losing their jobs or never making more money. But instead of furthering the journey toward a worthwhile goal, that just leaves no captain at the wheel, and a lost or sinking ship.

    Um, who says this is the only way it can be? Who says journalists must be poor, cynical, pained, unhappy or limited in any way? Who defines journalism, anyway? We do, the journalists.
    Instead of wasting our energy complaining about a definition we don't like, it is time to rewrite it. What would the ideal newsroom look like if you could shake it like an Etch A Sketch and start completely from scratch?

    Do that
  • Change your mind. The moment you decide that you want to contribute toward the evolution of journalism, you become that very evolution. You are the change, because your thinking and priorities have shifted, even if just slightly. Your thinking will shape the field. Changing our thinking is the hardest challenge; hammering down the most effective best practices and profitable solution is the adventure -- not the destination, nor the measurement of success. Best practices are the result of your new way of thinking -- not the other way around. As the famous metaphor goes, don't sit in front of the fireplace demanding, "First give me warmth, then I'll feed you the wood."
  • Stop tearing each other down. The world will return to you what you give to it. That's Newton's Law of Motion, right? It's not just limited to physical objects.

    When Digital First announced it would be closing Thunderdome and dozens of the nation's top journalists would be laid off, the Aurora Sentinel's response garnered a lot of attention, and not the good kind.

We complain about the counterproductive bullies polluting our websites. We complain that journalists are among the least-respected and least-trusted professions. We complain about layoffs and that we don't get enough money, that we're not valued enough -- when we're not even valuing ourselves. We are our own biggest bullies sometimes.

Instead of tearing each other down, we should be putting our energy toward building each other up. This is not a revolutionary idea; we all learned it in kindergarten. Yet in a field traditionally driven by competition, how often do you see it?

Be nice. Help each other.

That's the premise behind the newest project involving the Reporter-Herald, Times-Call and Daily Camera -- three papers that used to be "competitors." By working together, not only can we provide readers better stories, but we can inspire each other, teach each other and support each other.

is the surest way to evolve to the next level of journalism. There are no textbooks to study. There are not even good modern codes of ethics. There's no definitive course to teach you what modern journalism is. We are all living and writing this new definition together right now, in live time. So the only place we can learn anything right now is from each other. 

When I attended the Online News Association convention last fall, I learned about the Shine Theory. At the time, it seemed interesting, but not pivotal. But the idea planted in my mind and, much to my surprise, became the most important lesson I took from the convention.

"I don't shine if you don't shine."

In the journalism field. And also in life.

It's not a bad way to live. Especially considering those nifty unbreakable laws of physics.

* * *

Read this: "Why Powerful Women Make The Greatest Friends."

 "When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and                  professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better."

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