There’s been quite a stooshie around journalism training and education these last few days. Paul Bradshaw had posed the question: “how important is it students have a blog?” I’d replied, in comments, that it was pretty important. A student with a blog shows they can (or can’t) write unedited. It shows they have motivation, and an interest in the world around them. It shows they can use a computer. It’s bound to make them better journalists, and to help them get a job.
All this sparked some interesting conversations, including one at Buzzmachine, where Jeff Jarvis flattered and alarmed and me by saying he was quoting my ill-tempered advice to his students that they should all get blogging, like, yesterday.
Actually, even in sunny mood I still think it’s true. Yet when I ask groups of student journalists who keeps a blog, only a few hands go up. I’ve no idea where the rest of them plan to work, but it’s hard to imagine a branch of journalism where some kind of understanding of new media isn’t going to help. And, even if there were such a branch, blogs are only the vehicle for enthusiasm – no journalism student could lose out from showing some, either generally or around a niche subject.
One has to fear the time-honoured j-student heroes – Hunter S Thompson, Woodward and Bernstein and John Pilger – don’t offer many pointers in the direction of new media. As my office neighbour is fond of saying, we need new heroes – digital ones. Too many of today’s graduates are still dreaming of reaching the cigarette-stained newsrooms of the past.
But that’s not to say you can’t take good print journalists and make them good digital ones, which makes media strategist Paul Conley’s blogged outburst of a few days ago so profoundly wrong. “The difficult truth is that people who can’t insert a hyperlink, who won’t read a blog, who don’t know how to work with Photoshop and can’t upload a video file just aren’t worth having around anymore,” he wrote two years ago. Now, he’s urging employers not to even offer training in web skills.
Conley’s mistake is, of course, that of the classic digital media enthusiast’s – of confusing use of tools with the journalism itself. Yes, technology influences the output (heavily) – that’s why, for instance, the rise of blogged journalism really matters.
But there are fewer really good journalists in this world than there are skilled users of blog software, which is why we’ve got to welcome the good journalists into the new world – and pave their way as well as possible – if the old skills we still need are to abide. Knowing how to use the tools doesn’t mean you can write, or research, or entertain, or think.
Of course, if you’re a journalism student with any sense, you’ll spot the opportunity here: be a really good journalist with great digital skills too. You’ll be in huge demand. But to get there, you’d best start blogging now.