Whatever kills you makes me stronger

A great line from Alexandre Gamela thinking about Lisa Williams’ Ten Things Journalists Should Know About Surviving In a High-Tech Industry post:

[F]iring journalists doesn’t lead to an increase in newspaper competitivity, it just increases the number of competitors, since a single journalist can create it’s own media, and shadow the company who fired him.

A good point and one that a lot of people should and are embracing

My first reaction was to also wholeheartedly agree with his point of clarification that journalism is not a hi-tech industry.

[T]he problem with journalism nowadays is that uses a technology that is accessible to the rest of the people

But on reflection I may need a bit of pursuading

User friendly

One of the problems with a lot of hi-tech is that it’s hard to use and seems to be have made by people who have no idea of how the rest of us use things. I often ask myself if the people who make software actually use the stuff. In that sense the journalism industry has a similar problem – it is apart. Journalists are somehow different from the ‘rest of the people’ who use this ‘technology’.

When I’m talking to students about the web I often allude to the idea of poacher turned gamekeeper. As a consumer, there are a number of great things about the web and some pretty crappy things and its a good idea to try and hold on to that when you cross over to become a publisher. But often they don’t.

But it seems pretty clear that keeping the connection between what you consume and what you produce is vital to staying in the game.

2 Replies to “Whatever kills you makes me stronger”

  1. Andy, hi

    In response to your comment , “I often ask myself if the people who make software actually use the stuff” well in many cases they don’t, and there’s no reason or expectation they should; unless, for example, in return, we journalists learn how to programme or user-test software. The people who build software are skilled and specialised programmers, and I think often get a bad rap.

    Most software remains hi-tech in that you need specialist training to build it. Sometimes that training can be straightforward (for Cascading Style Sheets and HTML) but the back-end (PHP or another language) still need training or intense learning. So, the software development remains the world of software developers, just as really good journalism (I believe) remains the realm of trained, committed journalists who put a lot of time and effort into investigation, reporting, and self-awareness of their ethical position and influence.

    What good software developers do is user-testing, rather than using, and the best software developers do this iteratively, with the philosophy of user-centred design at the heart of their understanding of human/computer interaction.

    I am a journalist, managing editor and now lecturer in journalism up at Sunderland. I’ve been responsible for budgets up to £2.5m to develop the Content Management Systems (CMS) and interfaces built by technology companies to meet the requirements of my publishing organisation, to deliver online magazines, journalism-led career services portals etc. It’s clear to me that it is my responsibility, as the client, to get the right type of software, working in the way I need it to, to deliver the content my users want; and probably more importantly, the functionality that my journalists need.

    The software developers have not trained as journalists or content publishers. The ‘translation link’ between the software developer and client (if the client is not as well-versed as others) is the user-centred designer, who sits with the editor, gets their business rules and business requirements, then runs focus groups, quantitative research, user-acceptance testing, quality acceptance testing, and makes sure that what the editor wants for the users matches what the users want. And that it all works well.

    One out of three projects of this type fails. In my experience with both big and small media houses (from a dance music outfit in Ibiza through to GWR Radio (now GCAP)) I would nearly always place at least 50% of the responsibility of failure on the client. As an example, when GWR Radio started developing its web presence in 1999, it chose not to provide the functionaity to link to other external websites from its CMS. No linking! Can you imagine that now?? The rationale was that, from a radio mind (the bosses were radio people) you don’t send someone on your radio station to another radio station. This website (koko.com) failed. Forty-six people were laid off. Except the ‘radio bosses’, the people making the decisions, funnily enough…

    For free software publishing software, that I assume Alexandre Gamela is talking about when referring to journalism as now having lowered barriers to publishing entry, with access to low-tech software such as blogs, well, I’d imagine for every successful blog software, there are quite a few that lie in the ditch on the road towards low-tech publishing. WordPress is wonderful. I love it. And after managing a budget of £2.5m I am now building a website for £256, using WordPress. Wonderful.

    So, within the institutional world of journalism–big publishers, big staff, big egos, big successes, and big ambitions–what journalists can do on the chosen software is very much controlled by how well the editor-as-client is versed in user-centred human/computer interaction, or how well they understand the limitations of software (budget, time, quality project constraints), and how good their user-centred ‘translators’ are. It is the client, in these cases and in my ten years experience of working online as a managing editor, that is generally the reason for why good or poor software is developed, not te developer, and that results in a good or poor site for a journalist within a large organisation to use.

    Alex Lockwood

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