Break it

Honestly, I’ve never paid much attention to the articles that say the sky is falling and journalism as we know it is ending. I’m much more interested in the articles that say yes, journalism and communications is changing, but this is how we can apply what we already know to what we don’t know, and the new skills that we need to learn.

As a kid, I was a little technology-adverse, something I will chalk up to the fact that we didn’t have a lot of computer technology in our house until I was nearly in high school. But now? I will assess how “breakable” something is, and then go for it, trying to learn whatever I need to know.

(By “breakable,” I mean assessing something like, am I going to accidentally send out an incomplete newsletter with dummy copy to thousands of people, or am I going to be able to safely play with a test copy until I figure out how the workflow works. Things like that.)

But the best example of this is the newspaper that I used to put together. We used print technology, using desktop publishing to imitate the look and feel of a real newspaper, but then used web technology to, as I used to describe it, make the newspaper do things that print couldn’t do.

This morning, I tweeted that “To journalism grads: learn to love digital. It is different, it is powerful, and if you can’t master it, the whole Internet can laugh at you.”

I mean it, and I think it relates well to my opening paragraph. It’s different, but that’s why I’m not interested in the people who are saying the sky is falling and journalism is dying. No, it’s just here in a different form. It’s not the end as we know it, because we will still use some basic principles of print (and some of the technology) to get there. It’s just a different end result, from a slightly different application.

And it’s powerful, because you can reach a lot more people. But at the same time, I still realize that you have to be careful not to alienate others. It was really interesting to see a study in the September Edmonton Avenue magazine that said 62 per cent of people still get their performing arts news from traditional media. Eighteen per cent get it from the Internet. I wish I could see a further breakdown of those numbers, because the performing arts organizations included everything from Citadel Theatre to the orchestra and the ballet and the opera. There is some overlap, but those are also different audiences. And I think more people might get their live theatre information from the Internet than the opera crowd does.

Finally, why wouldn’t you master it? When I took the digital job at the paper, my editor pointed out that it’s a great opportunity for someone just out of school. It totally was. Occasionally I had to “break” things, or make peace with the fact that I couldn’t “break” something in the way I wanted to, but I was learning, adding to my skill set because I don’t have that fear of breaking the Internet.

We’ve also discovered that my current job can be summed up in three words: “Technology and words.” If a task involves the application of technology or words, I probably have my hands in there somewhere.

I love it. Because I get to say, here’s what I know, but this is what I need to learn to make it better and more relevant.

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