If you’ve read my blog in recent weeks, you know I’ve grown very worried about what 2008 will bring for b-to-b publishing. A few days ago, I wrote that it’s "time for b-to-b editors and publishers to build some fighting holes"-defensive positions from where they could ride out the coming onslaught of bad economic news.
I promised then that I would "post some of my thoughts on what a b-to-b fighting hole looks like." And given the news that the smartest guys on Wall Street think a recession is coming, I think today is the day for me to start discussing tactics.
Let’s start with a little story.
A few weeks ago I had coffee with a long-time friend and journalist. We got to talking about new media. I told him about the remarkable work being done by Rob Curley‘s team at Loudoun Extra, and I told him that he should go straight home, log on and check it out.
But my friend said that he did not have an Internet connection at his home.
When my shock wore off, I asked why. And my friend, who makes pretty good money, said he didn’t want to pay for Web access. "It doesn’t seem worth it," he said.
I was reminded of that conversation earlier today when an anonymous reader posted a comment to an earlier post of mine. That reader complained that"employers aren’t doing much to train their current employees and prepare them as online journalists."
That’s true, I thought. But I don’t care. I believe that journalists need to learn these skills themselves. As I said more than two years ago"… at this point, you can’t blame the boss for not teaching these things. The difficult truth is that people who can’t insert a hyperlink, who won’t read a blog, who don’t know how to work with Photoshop and can’t upload a video file just aren’t worth having around anymore."
Now, as difficult times loom, I’m taking an even harder stance. I’m urging employers not to offer any training in Web journalism. There are two reasons for this. Here they are:
1. You cannot train someone to be part of a culture.
For someone to work on the Web, they must be part of the Web. That, after all, is what the Web means. The Web is a web. It exists as a series of connections. An online journalist isn’t a journalist who works online. He’s a journalist who lives online. He’s part of the Web.
It’s a waste of time and money to teach multimedia skills and technology to someone who hasn’t already become part of the Web. And there’s no need to teach skills and technology to the journalists who are already part of Web culture, because the culture requires participation in skills and technology.
Or, to put it another way — I cannot teach the Web. No one can. Yet all of us who are part of the Web are learning the Web.
2. When the fighting begins, the training must end.
We had a good run. For the past few years, life has been pretty easy for b-to-b publishers that have embraced the Web. We have been an army that has known nothing but victory. But if I’m right, the easy times are over.
We have moved too far, too fast. Our lines are overextended. Our advance has been halted. We are vulnerable.
We cannot move backward to round up the stragglers and train them to fight. It’s too late to try to convince print journalists that the Web has value. It’s too late to tell them that an Internet connection is worth a few dollars a month. As revenue shrinks, we can’t spend money on training. We can’t gather up the print folks and "prepare them as online journalists."
You can’t prepare people to dig a fighting hole. You just tell them to dig. And the ones who don’t dig fast enough, deep enough or well enough, die.
[Some readers are sure to be thinking — "Is he nuts? Isn’t training newsroom staffs part of what he does for a living?" To which I reply, "Yes. I am nuts. And I do offer training to newsroom staffs." Odds are there’s something valuable I can offer to the staff at your publication. There are certainly non-training services I can offer your company. Send an email to inquire (at) paulconley (dot) com and we can talk about it. Just don’t ask me to teach another "writing for the Web" course. There’s no room for Web newbies in a b-to-b fighting hole.]