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What I'm learning about journalism

Monday, June 10, 2002 by Dave Winer.

Learning Permalink to Learning

I received dozens of emails from professional journalists in the last few days. Based on these conversations, I'd say that many, maybe even most, got into journalism for the same reason people start weblogs. Hoping to make a difference. To have an intellectual life. To be where the action is. Idealism.

For many, becoming a reporter was a very positive thing -- but being a reporter meant understanding that the publisher must make money. Compromise. Conflicts. In the heart of such a reporter, the Web was a rallying point, a return to their beginning, it called up their inner true believer. But the Web created a conundrum. Try as hard as you can, it's very hard to make a buck selling the written word. Try to skirt the issue. It's in your face.

As a software developer turned public writer, it's hard not to be sympathetic, even though many of the same people wrote us off, either because we were Mac developers when that was presumed to be a lost cause; or a Web developer when Java was presumed to rule the world; or a commercial developer during the open source mania. To have been ignored in our struggle, brings up bitterness -- these people didn't help us when our basic business model was challenged. Regardless, I am sympathetic. I want the pros to stay in business, and keep publishing to the Web, creating a trail of knowledge, so we can learn from our mistakes, and point to them, so perhaps we don't have to make them again.

The Poynter Institute hosted a discussion thread on my last last piece, where a Knight Ridder system manager asked that we be gentle with their new content management system. Oh does that ring a bell. Of course I understand that. I make software for a living. A new software product is a fragile thing. If not properly cared for, it dies. When something new comes along, truly new, it should be cared for, not undermined; celebrated, not ignored. It's no surprise to me that a hard-working engineer wants his or her product to become something. That's natural, sensible, and right.

Back in the early 90s, before the Web became the thing, the talk of the industry was a concept called convergence. The media industry and the tech industry would become one. Today that's been realized, and what a mess it is. Now they know what it feels like to be on our side of the fence, and we're getting a taste of what it's like from their point of view. The hope is that this increases understanding. Perhaps we can find new ways to work together, don't just believe and repeat the hype, think, evaluate, let's take a different course this time. Remember the Golden Rule and practice it.

There's a new frankness and humility on all sides. Let's make the most of that.

Dave Winer

PS: Today the New York Times ran a story about weblogs and used the word "journalist" to describe people who do what we do. That's a milestone worth noting and appreciating. Thanks!

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