(This post is part of the Carnival of Journalism, hosted this month by Adrian Monck. Read this post for more links to great journalism blogging.)
Culture: 5.the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group: the youth culture; the drug culture.
Readers and commenters across the journalistic blogosphere have risen to chime in recently about comments made by Paul Conley about training journalists to work online. Paul, the One-Man Quote Machine (TM), wrote:
It’s a waste of time and money to teach multimedia skills and technology to someone who hasn’t already become part of the Web. And there’s no need to teach skills and technology to the journalists who are already part of Web culture, because the culture requires participation in skills and technology.
Or, to put it another way — I cannot teach the Web. No one can. Yet all of us who are part of the Web are learning the Web.
Mindy McAdams adds that she sees similar frustrations with student journalists:
… I know what he means. Sometimes I despair at how many young students we lead to the multimedia trough only to see them decline to drink. Sometimes I feel like the only ones who â€œget itâ€ are the ones who already â€œgot itâ€ before we got them.
Pat Thornton sums up the gist with this line: “You can’t teach culture.”
Learning the Web is not like learning statistics or history. Itâ€™s not taught in some class. Itâ€™s just something that you do because you want to do it.
I canâ€™t teach you how to love cars and whatâ€™s under their hoods. Sure, I could teach you how to change the oil or add coolant, but I canâ€™t teach you anything meaningful. Certified mechanics know a lot about cars long before they ever have any formal training.
But I disagree with Pat here. You can teach culture. We do it every day. But the problem is, it’s not taught in ways that we are used to thinking of as “teaching.” To go back to Pat’s analogy: Certified mechanics spent time training for their certification, and they spend time learning new techniques. But their participation in the culture of cars is dependent upon them understanding the rules of that culture – rules that someone “taught” them. You can’t teach someone to “love” cars. You can’t teach someone to “love” the Web. But you can help them “understand” cars, or the Web.
By way of example, I lean on conversations I’ve had with student media advisers throughout the time I’ve been writing this weblog. One of the biggest impediments to change that I come up against is the “culture” of the student newspaper newsroom. It’s the way the system is set up, the “traditions” that student journalists hold fast to, whether formal or informal. It’s the sneer that a print journalist feels for a broadcast journalist and vice versa. It’s the ideas I’ve heard from students who didn’t believe publication on the web was worth as much as publication in print.
Those attitudes and traditions didn’t arrive ex nihilo within freshmen journalists when they walked through the door. They were inculcated. Those student journalists were “taught” about the traditions and culture of their newsroom.
Some of that teaching came through formal training – workshops, handouts, seminars, conferences. Much of it came through informal teaching by senior staffers or advisers.
The student journalists who stayed and succeeded in the organization learned the lessons they needed to get ahead within that newsroom culture. The ones who wouldn’t, or didn’t, moved on to other things.
Every occupation has a culture. Policemen, firemen, electricians, physicians, nurses, the military, all have elements of culture that they pass on from generation to generation.
Likewise, the “culture” of the Web is passed on as people move online. Some of that “passing on” occurs through individual learning – like spending time reading weblogs, or guides to netiquette. Some of it is mentoring. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve answered e-mails from colleagues about various aspects of the Web and online journalism. And I’ve spent time seeking out answers to questions from others who are more knowledgeable than I. And some of it occurs through formal training – through workshop sessions, or conference attendance. All of those things helped me as I learned the culture of the Web.
I don’t think the answer is “sink or swim,” if I can paraphrase Paul’s suggestion. Rather, it’s a systemic change in the entire newsroom culture, and a commitment to mentoring those who haven’t yet “learned” to be part of the culture of the Web. This is informal training, something we do all the time. Maybe we just don’t realize we’re doing it.
In some ways, what I’m suggesting is “crowdsourcing” the cultural shift in your newsroom. If everyone’s in it together, then the change that needs to occur must include everyone’s participation.
Now, at some point, there’s a decision to be made. Either a journalist wants to be part of the online culture, or he/she doesn’t. If an individual journalist doesn’t want to be part of a cultural shift, then painful decisions will need to be made.
But ultimately, I think you can teach culture. It’s just a much more involved, subtle process than occurs in your usual classroom environment. And, as Mindy suggests in the final paragraphs of her post, it’s something every newsroom should be seriously looking at these days:
Maybe the right combination of circumstances lies in the newsroom itself â€” if only everyone were required to step up and pull their own weight on the online side. If the online staff were not ghetto-ized, stuffed into closets separate from the rest of the journalists, cloistered with advertising or some other nonsensical thing.
What needs to change in your newsroom to bring this about â€” to make everyone understand that they must all be digging the foxhole, together?