Friday, November 16, 2007

So, what does the future hold?

All this talk of the Web 2.0 journalist is causing much disquiet among those who hold the key to its future.

During two lively QandA sessions at Cardiff University yesterday, I was faced four times with questions that, however phrased, boiled down to: "What on earth will employers want from us when we qualify?"

It was no good me reassuring them that their core investigative skills and writing ability would be enough, and that colleges of this quality equip them technically well in the first place, although I do stand by it.

And it didn't help that I predicted yet more redundancies as papers talking up convergence actually converge and work to a business model that gets close to the management ideal of a few multi-skillers doing the job of many - and getting a return on the fortunes they's spent on their infrastructure.

But that's still a way off as it involves a technical interface that publishers are still struggling to get to grips with and a broadcast-style editorial management that is often equally misunderstood.

Anyway, before we get carried away, It's probably worth reiterating that I don't envisage any great sea change in the way these guys will be operating, save for the fact that some of them will be using a bit more kit from time to time than they would have done when the Sun was broadsheet.

(pause here and spare a thought for all those agency hacks of the 70s filing fudges, flongs and snaps, banging off a pic on the court steps, an off-the-cuff page top for the evenings, an overnighter for the mornings, a backgrounder for the Sundays, then dashing to the game and filing updates for local radio live from a phone in the press box)

The real challenge for educators remains in producing reporters who can think on their feet, file quickly, with clarity and authority, ask questions that get answers quickly and develop and maintain contacts that will produce copy to justify a place on an ever emerging plethora of platforms.

As for the technical challenges they're worried about, be they using a microphone or tagging story files for searchability, they'll absorb them before lunch on their induction day. And I speak from years of experience watching interns get to grips with applications it took weeks for the newsroom to grasp.

At the moment many publishers, no matter how they have rearranged their desks, are still operating a two-tier system which distinguishes those who write from those who upload. Because, often, the best uploaders are post-grads who've never seen the inside of a council chamber, let alone doorstepped a minister, and the best writers can't, or won't, lower themselves to filing web-only chunks on a running story, let alone learn how a new CMS works.

So, until the new wave comes through with the attitude and skills to produce well-sourced, old-fashioned exclusives at any time on platforms they see as no more complex than an ipod, we're stuck with newsrooms struggling to make sense of the brave new world.

And it doesn't help that many of the driving forces are so adrift from reality, they are still referring to the crown jewells of their endeavours as "content".

Those who think that's what it is - and defer to it as being "king" - should abdicate.

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