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That’s not scary, that’s how it should be

I’m about two months into my new gig with WEWS-TV/newsnet5.com in Cleveland, and I’m getting plenty of on the job training. The experience has been great, and I’ve spent much of my time learning the dynamics of a television newsroom.

I have enjoyed watching and listening as the newsroom continues to go through an evolution to get more in line with today’s era of digital journalism.

The newsroom has a wide range of personnel, from employees who have worked at the station for over 40 years, to me, who is 22 years old and has been there a couple of months.

Everyone brings something different.

Like all media companies (and most companies, in general), there is some level of a generational divide in the newsroom.

I’ve considered blogging about this for a while, and I thought now was a good time after I read a recent post from Steve Buttry, the Director of Community Engagement at DC’s new news outlet TBD.com. (His blog was actually a response to a post by David Cohn. So I am really writing a response to a response, and I would urge you to read both of their posts. They’re worth the time.)

In his post, Buttry—a baby boomer—discusses some of the frustrations he has with his generation of journalists, and also describes some of the steps he and his colleagues have made to adapt to the new demands of the industry.

After reading Buttry’s blog, I started to think about what is at the root of this digital divide in most newsrooms today.  The simple answer is to point to the age difference, simply saying that younger people “get” the web, and older people don’t.

But I don’t think that cuts to the core of the discussion, and is really just a narrow-minded response. In reality, age is hardly the most significant aspect in creating a digital divide.

I have worked (and do work) with many people older than me who “get” the web, and are looking for innovative ways to deliver content. I have also worked with people my age who refuse to adapt to the changing technology, writing off any new resources like Twitter as a fad that will eventually pass.

Age alone is definitely not the key issue.

Instead, I think it has more to do with the way that people perceive their jobs in the media. More specifically, how people define their roles.

In the age of traditional media, journalists had very defined roles, segmented into specific sections of the newsroom and focusing on skills that applied to that role.

The positions were clear-cut, and did not allow much room for overlap.

Reporter. Photographer. Copy editor. Page designer. Beat writer. Feature writer. Obit writer. Sports writer. Entertainment writer. Education writer. Columnist. Anchor. Producer. Director. Technical director….

Although many of those titles still exist today, they are often blended together, which I think is at the heart of this “digital divide.”

On one end of the generation gap is a group of people who were trained and hired to do a specific job. They have mastered those skills and can perform the job duties at a high level.

But the problem is that the job they were hired to do has now blended with four or five other positions.

Naturally, that leads to pushback and hesitation.

However, digital natives never really knew those jobs. Most people between 18-25 who want a career in the media don’t—and never did—aspire to land one of those titles. Becoming the 11 o’clock anchor or the newspaper’s Sunday columnist were never the dreams of the digital generation.

For the younger generation, the job duties are much more fluid, developing with the technology and often a case of trial and error.

Many digital natives working in the news have never even considered themselves anything other than a multimedia journalist, living and working on the web.

They are two completely different schools of thought.

I was recently talking with a person I have met a few times who has worked in the media for about as long as I’ve been alive. He has seen significant changes in the profession, and has adapted to the new world.

However, he said something that I thought illustrated this essential difference in thought between the two sides of the generational divide.

“The difference now is that young people don’t have a job to aspire to achieve because in five years everything will probably have changed again,” he said. “That’s scary.”

I agreed with him, except on one point.

“That’s not scary,” I responded. “That’s how it should be.”

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Category: New Media Thoughts, Social Media, WEWS

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