Ten Things Journalists Should Know About Surviving In a High-Tech Industry

    by Lisa Williams
    April 17, 2008

    Journalism is becoming a high tech industry, and that means that career norms for journalists are approaching those of high tech workers — shorter job tenures, working for smaller companies, and much more. Here are ten things that can help journalists survive Web 2.0 with their sanity intact:

    1. High tech is a boom and bust industry. We get laid off when the economy is good, and we get laid off when the economy is bad. Investors get fed up and pull the plug on small companies; at big companies, the CEO must, on ceremonial occasions, throw a few sacrificial victims to the volcano gods on Wall Street. We don’t even take it personally anymore. If it weren’t for layoffs, we’d never take a vacation. If you value your sanity, have some savings and don’t take out big mortgages.
    2. Jobs are temporary. Friends are forever. High tech offers reincarnation without having to die. The person who’s your boss now is someone you’ll hire as an employee later; then they’ll be your boss again. Everyone gets recycled. Act accordingly: you will see them again.

    3. Nobody has the right qualifications. If you think you aren’t qualified to work at Google or Yahoo!, you haven’t worked there. People with all sorts of backgrounds have jobs at high tech companies. The best way to get a job at the New York Times is to start by getting a job at Facebook. Bring your values to online companies; bring your skills back to news companies. Repeat.
    4. Company loyalty is obsolete. Think projects, not companies. Look for interesting projects, not prestigious companies. You’ll stay with a set of ideas for a decade or more; those ideas may get housed in half a dozen companies during that time. Companies can’t and won’t provide stability, and even prestigious, exciting companies have a ton of boring, dead end jobs.

    5. Time is on your side, but only if you take it. Why pick up that “Learn to Build Google Maps” book if you don’t know how long it will take for you to be able to do something useful – or even if you’ll be able to do something useful when you’re done? Set your goal-orientation aside for an hour or two a week for study and experiment with something that excites you without any practical expectation of results. On the job training just makes you an expert in something you don’t love.

    6. Breaking things is a privilege. Progress is about alternating breaking and fixing. Anything 100% working is 100% dead.

    7. RTFM. It’s all they really teach at MIT. Yes, read the, uh….fine….manual. The whole thing. Really.

    8. Write the manual. No manual? Write the fine manual. Your newspaper website lets users blog…and has no manual? No video tutorials? Why not? Create the documentation and you don’t just know it – you wrote the book on it.

    9. Narrow comprehensiveness. The web rewards narrow comprehensiveness – “everything about something.”

    10. Make it free. Traditionally, the news industry has taken stuff that’s free – public information, for example – and made it worth money by adding editorial value. On the web, the most successful companies don’t build, they collapse. They take something that used to cost money and make it free. What costs money in your region that you can make free? Craigslist isn’t the only one that can play that game.


    6 responses to “Ten Things Journalists Should Know About Surviving In a High-Tech Industry”

    1. Leslie Rule says:

      Lisa, Great post. You’d think after almost 20 years, we’d know this. The post encouraged me to keep everything in perspective and to certainly manage expectations. As we evangelize new media, it’s really important to articulate the new media mindset towards employment. I’ve been laid off so many times! All I say is, “Oh, Well. Moving on.”

    2. All great points … one of the best advice posts I’ve seen for journalists dealing with the change in our industry.

      Let me add a bit of old advice that is still good but needs to be tweaked a bit.

      When I got into journalism, one of my old profs told me to always save some energy to freelance — your bosses will value you more if they know you have other options, he said.

      I’d say that if you are working on the dead tree side of a pub and want to keep your job, start messing around on the web. Write a blog. Write for somebody else’s blog. Do something online somewhere and let it get around. Your bosses will value you more. If they have to chose between laying off someone who has some web skills and somebody who has none, the choice will be obvious.

    3. Awesome, awesome post and sound advice.

      My favorite is #6. I’m pretty sure that’s how everything in the history of the world has been created.

      – Steve Mullis
      Online Producer, The Orlando Sentinel

    4. Yes Lisa, I think you’re right.

    5. It’s a shame MediaShift doesn’t trackback, because Lisa commented on a post i did about her article and she was really great developing her opinion. This is really a great list.

      Serão os jornalistas despedidos a nova concorrência dos jornais? | Are fired journalists newspapers’ latest competition?

    6. Brad King says:

      This is a great post.

      Having worked online since 1999, I can say that my background with technology (tinkering since 1984) has made all the difference. I can dive into whatever new technology we are doing without trepidation.

      It’s important that others read this and internalize it. Cause it’s happening one way or the other.

  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »
    MediaShift Newsletters »

    Follow us on Social Media