Thursday, March 08, 2007

Some things you can't teach

I shared an office this week with one journalist who posed the question, having hacked into a series of net-linked printers in distant offices, surely I'm only invading privacy if I hit the 'print' key my end.

A few minutes later, I 'helped' one of his colleagues sift thousands of online documents quickly by introducing him to the "magic" (his words) of CTRL-F.

Revelation. And it took me back to the point-the-mouse-at-the-icon days when dear old cardigans who defied smoking bans at their desks actually held the mouse in mid-air and pointed at the screen. (And don't let anyone tell you those tales are apocryphal).

On the way home I read Jeff Jarvis's musings on the essential skills he is teaching his journalism students in New York. Amid the maze of multi-skilling, some, he says, fleetingly wonder whether they had made the wrong career move.

It's understandable. There's a lot to take in these days. If nothing else, the demands of multi media mean the shy may flinch at podcasting, those with private lives - or nowt to say - may not want them aired on blogs and there must be more than one out there in the "even my mum says I'm no oil-painting" category who's not keen on standing in front of a camera with a mike in their hands.

Still, it's progress. Ask anyone in Fleet Street a few years ago why they left reporting to sub and they'd invariably say either the regular hours or not having to actually meet the great unwashed they write for.

But the career move stuff is something I hear a lot. I visit six universities on a regular basis to give "the talk" to media undergrads; the tea-boy-to-editor stuff with all the anecdotes.

It's clear seeing them in the classrooms and studios that they eat up the technical stuff because they're already multi-ligual. A 19-year-old who's toyed with Paintshop in his bedroom takes to Photoshop in minutes, the Qarkers become InDesigners and the Flashers become Dreamweavers.

I could have put that better, but you get my drift. Almost always what the young want to hear are tales of phoning every Smith in the book to track the kidnap girl's parents, standing in the rain outside a film-star's flat with a bunch of flowers or covertly following a lorry full of dodgy waste to stand up the Toxic Timebomb headline.

How they deliver the message is more of a detail. Years ago when I worked for David Montgomery at News International, he interrupted my clever-dick guide to direct input to tell out latest star signing 'wrap up the technical crap - we need to talk about exclusives'. His point was, let's get him doing what he does, he'll pick up this screen and keyboard thingy as he goes.

The world has moved on a bit from then. FutureHack does need to be flexible enough to, not only embrace change, but help to shape it.

The tools will change, more will be introduced and their use will become ever more widespread among the multi-skilling fraternity as reporters become presenters, subs become producers and publishers become deliverers.

But while the business at large changes its mind and changes it back again, those for whom the soaking flowers, the mileage and the sheer persistence pay off will flourish.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My, how small the world is … Did you really work for Montgomery, Richard? I started my media career as a columnist with what today is a Montgomery owned newspaper. My first stop in the world of journalism proper, after City, as you know, was a stint of work experience at what was then The Electronic Telegraph – and tonight Montgomery is in Oslo to debate what media owners want to achieve with their ownership. Mecom, represented by Monty, and Schibsted will both be in the panel, and both stand accused of destroying local democracy, albeit for different reasons, so it’s going to be a fun debate. Better start heading over there actually…