Journalism's Old Guard vs. Generation Facebook

Over the last year, I’ve approached over a dozen news organizations about how to use social networking sites to amplify their content in the era of seemingly-universal self-publication. Online I watch them blunder, which makes me want to help. But with the exception of one editor once (who, unfortunately, did not have the final say in the matter), all have treated me like some sort of lunatic out to destroy responsible journalism. Invariably, it is the old guard who doesn’t get it and, in most cases, resents that I would even suggest that they don’t know their own industry – something I have not suggested, and would not suggest, but that I guess is somehow implied in conversations like this one, that I recorded in my notebook after meeting with a Chicago-area news publication last year:

“You want me to…what was that word again?”



At this point, I wish that Silicon Valleyans didn’t create such oddball terms. But what choice do they have? Domain names are finite alphanumeric sequences, and most of Merriam-Webster’s words got bought up early on by domain name tycoons.

“Yep…Twitter, it’s the future. You should at least get your publication an account right away, so your URL doesn’t get snatched by a…”

“Hold on…my what?”

“Your web address…like you have; you should get…even if you don’t use it right away. My thought is you won’t have a choice very soon.”

Invariably, I am ignored, until months later, when I spot the publication on Twitter, as a Spam-pusher losing followers who were at first excited to see it there, but have since tired of its monopolistic, unengaged approach to their Twitter feeds. Eventually the publication begins to engage, ask questions, and thank @followers for their @responses. That’s where the Washington Post is right now in its Twitter evolution. That’s where news organizations need to be. But it’s not enough. They need to know what applications are coming out to filter their information intake, and track their information output. They need to engage Generation Facebook for advice and ideas, and not resent them for doing it differently, for never having “earning their stripes” as minions at typewriters.

But my point here is not to rail against the old guard, as I regard them, their training, their experience, as vital to the preservation and maintenance of the American experiment. They are the guardians of responsible journalism; and accurate, responsible journalism is the baseline of informed democratic discourse. But informing that discourse is not the same game as before; and without an open-minded, experimental approach that runs so contrary to the precise, methodical processes at the heart of responsible news, the newsroom will continue to sink into the red, and American democracy with it.