Skills training is not enough

One of our core principles here at Advancing the Story is that you have to think differently about journalism if you’re going to succeed in a multimedia world.  Nikki Usher of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism obviously agrees. Writing in the Online Journalism Review, Usher argues that skills training is not enough for digital journalists. In fact, she suggests that many news organizations that are providing training are going about it all wrong.

Teaching journalists how to use digital tools without addressing their mindset is not productive, she says, citing the case of a newsroom executive who learned that the hard way.

This executive, after putting staff through training pilots, realized that multimedia literacy and a basic understanding of what it meant to work in a Web environment was what people needed – before they could go about learning the hardware.

So what training in multimedia thinking does she recommend? In brief, she says journalists need to:

  • Learn how the Web and multimedia goals will work within their own organizations.
  • Believe that they can contribute to the multimedia vision of their organization.
  • Make new connections across the organization to people who can help them think about how to make their work relevant to multiplatform content.
  • Understand that they no longer control the distribution of the content they produce.
  • Reposition themselves as leaders of a new conversation about the content they produce.

Newsrooms need to learn an important lesson too, Usher says.  “Silos, departmental rivalries, and departments that don’t communicate with each other cannot exist if multimedia initiatives are to succeed.”

None of this is to suggest that skills “boot camps” have no value. On the contrary, Usher says, “they do help journalists learn to see the potential of what these new tools can bring to the work they do.” But expecting skills training to transform your newsroom is an exercise in futility, if you don’t change the thinking first.