BitDepth#843 - July 17

After a semester of coaching young journalists in new media practices, some thoughts about the experience.
Journalism’s next generation
Duane Boodasingh, owner and manager of Trinituner the most popular local website according to the web traffic analysis website Alexa, speaks to journalism students at UWI’s School of Education. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

The rumble of it is what I remember most clearly.
A hum throughout the building, a vibration and a sound that signalled that the massive letterpress printers were beginning to run the next day’s newspaper.

Back then you could have children running around at dawn delivering papers and expect them to come back safely, and I was in the office to explain to Mr Cardinez, the Guardian’s circulation manager, why he shouldn’t fire me for being such a lousy paperboy.

Looking back, I suppose I should acknowledge that the humming, the ink that smeared my fingers when I flung papers onto porches (I still throw a mean folded newspaper) and the idea of telling people things about their world, all conspired to ensure that I would never be far from low grade printer’s ink.

Before I’d even written my A-Levels, I was breaking biche from school to deliver my handwritten columns, wretched both in copy and in penmanship, to Trevor Smith at the Sunday Punch, my patron at that paper and first mentor in the hard knocks of column writing.

My most recent mission for the craft, a semester’s worth of teaching to students of UWI’s Certificate Course in Journalism, double tracked into half that many weeks, was to introduce them to the mechanics and practice of that slippery modern beast, New Media Journalism.
The course outline mandated an experience with online publishing, multimedia and story promotion.

Coming in at the tail end of their study of the practices of traditional media methods, I rather predictably chose to bang the gong I usually favour when discussing Internet-based journalism, the sharp chime of entrepreneurship.

It’s certainly my choice. I’ve been described properly as an employee of a newspaper for less than four of the last 35 years that I’ve participated in local print media and encourage brand, copyright and personal responsibility as important elements of a professional content provider’s lifestyle.

The other dirty word I used a lot over our time together was “iteration,” the kaizen-like cycle of production, review and revision that’s the hallmark of Internet publishing.
That’s probably the hardest notion to grasp in making the jump from traditional publishing and broadcasting. The digital edition is never quite final and changes and adjustments, appropriately tracked and annotated, are part of the ongoing cycle of web based information exchange.

The group may have self-selected, but these are problems that media houses with more than a century of publishing experience are also grappling with, and it’s a reality that’s buried a startling number of experienced publishing and broadcast houses while fundamentally changing the way we experience information.

Of the group I coached through this experience using commonly available and free online tools, roughly one third had been doing some blogging before our class experience began, one third had some idea of the possibilities of self-publication but had never done anything in the field and a final third, to my often-expressed astonishment, had no idea that such a thing was possible.

It might well be that the most entrepreneurial potential journalists have chosen to simply get to it directly. An era that found great writers beginning their careers contributing to local newspapers had already begun to draw to a close when I started my career three and a half decades ago.

There was no Naipaul, Walcott or Lovelace actively writing in local print media then. There was, briefly, Victor Questel and Jeremy Taylor among a notable few, and others like BC Pires and Wayne Brown arrived soon after, but for the most part, people who wanted to write did so where they would be paid, in advertising agencies. Many more now choose to do so on blogs and Facebook notes.

It isn’t just writing.

Great photography in newspapers has been in a dramatic decline for years now (
I wrote about that here) and some of the best local photographers to appear in the last five years have never worked on a news desk and probably never will.
The dozens of young people attending UWI’s film school also aren’t planning for line careers in local broadcasting.

Far from being a new generation of web savvy, content producing digital natives, a 2012 class of students new to journalism still viewed content generation as something demanding an institutional process and infrastructure.

Even more surprising was the dearth of entrepreneurial thinking about the journalism process, something that the business desperately needs if it is to revitalise itself here over the remainder of this decade.
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