Friday, September 18, 2009

Newspaper troglodytes

For some inexplicable (to me) reason, the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association invited J.D. Lasica to address us at this year's conference.

Lasica is clearly a bright man who spends a good share of his time typing away at his laptop and smartphone. I know this because after his session he sat 10 feet away from me, tapping away. He knows a lot about social networking and hashtags. He clearly subscribes to the theory that "if you can, you should."

I came away from his presentation feeling patronized, a sense that was compounded when I read some of his Twitter posts from the conference. He noted that he was the only one in the room using a laptop, clearly implying that anyone who didn't have his or her head buried in a notebook computer during a conference presentation is a troglodyte.

Of course, the real truth is that most of the people in the room were thumbing away on more discrete iPhones and BlackBerries, because laptops are distracting and, well, rude. It wasn't because, as he seemed to imply, that newspaper ad directors and publishers didn't receive word that laptops had been invented and actually could connect to the Internet via wireless network. We actually know that.

Lasica asked a series of questions about whether we'd heard about this web site or that one, and few hands went up. At least in my case, I didn't raise my hand because I felt that Lasica was being patronizing and wasn't interested in feedback, not because BugMeNot was new to me. BugMeNot is yesterday's news -- I've used it in old articles as an argument against site registration.

No, the truth is, from my perspective, that many of us found Lasica's presentation to be condescending and, in some ways, dangerous. For example, he made light of those old "journalism conventions," apparently like vetting the accuracy of information, using multiple sources, doing research and attempting to take an objective approach to covering the news. He clearly thinks it's ancient thinking to not encourage reporters to develop blogs and Twitter accounts to talk one-on-one to readers.

How old-fashioned it must sound to Lasica for journalists to hold to the idea that we don't want reporters discussing their personal biases and perspectives, one of those "journalism conventions" he so easily dismisses.

No, Mr. Lasica, the lack of raised hands and laptops at your presentation had nothing to do with your being in a room full of dummies. We just didn't want to play along with the game in which you've already declared winners and losers, and we don't need to be chained to our laptops to be aware of evolving technology.

Social networking, citizen involvement in news-gathering, facilitating the community dialog, pulling back the curtain on how the newspaper is created -- these are all good things in appropriate doses and as part of a strategy that respects and supports valid "journalism conventions" instead of supplanting them.

And, yes, newspaper publishers follow the trends in technology, but we try to understand how best to apply them sensibly and, sorry -- profitably -- in a sustainable business model. Folks like Lasica appear not to be concerned about such trivia.

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