Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Brain drain

As if the mainstream media didn’t have enough trouble navigating the uncharted realm of digital innovation, they are losing many of the young, technologically astute employees who could be their guides.

“What am I doing here?” a talented young designer and programmer working at a publishing company asked me recently. “These guys don’t get it. I’ve got to get out. I’m just wasting my time.”

Like the others quoted in this article, the young journalist is not being named, so as to protect his livelihood until he bails out of his MSM job.

He summed up the frustration of the twenty- and thirty-something professionals who grew up with a keyboard at their fingertips and an iPod, or at least a Walkman, plugged in their ears. They use modern media the way their generation does, not the way their fifty-something bosses wish they would.

But the young net natives, for the most part, rank too low in the organizations that employ them to be invited to the pivotal discussions determining the stratgeic initiatives that could help their employers sustain their franchises.

“In most organizations, the people with the most online experience have the least political capital,” said one mid-level online editor at a newspaper. “It seems like the pace of change inside media is slowing, tied up in politics and lack of expertise in managing technical projects – while the pace of change is continuing apace outside our windows.”

Members of the wired generation say the process, bureaucracy and caution common to most media companies steals spontaneity and edginess away from ideas that could be appealing to their peers.

“Management is more concerned about who owns the change than they are about creating change,” said the online newspaper editor. “I hear people wail about journalism, when most of their arguments aren't about journalism but about their own job security and, more importantly, egos.”

Adding insult to injury, the net natives say they sometimes are pulled off promising projects to work on watered-down ideas that, in their opinion, won’t be successful. “I can innovate 10 times faster than any journalism organization,” said an online editor.

While the above comments may be, in part, a common reflection of generational impatience, these concerns take on new urgency at a time when most available data tell us that young people are consuming media in completely different ways than prior generations.

As but one example, consumers aged 13 to 24 narrowly favor user-generated media (blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Flckr and the like) over content created by the traditional media, according to recent research from Deloitte & Touche (see table below).

“I don't understand or like the media,” said the online newspaper editor who's planning his exit. “Blogging has shown me that I don't really need the guys that own the presses anymore. I'll probably stay in journalism, but I can't wait to get out of the media.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...


The large MSM paper I work for has had virtually 100% turnover in it's online operations in the last 18 months. I'm not talking about the Podunk Daily News either, you'd know the name.

These people have been replaced to a large extent with folks with little or no web experience, especially in the newsroom.

There's a story circulating about how the AME of online didn't know you could type a URL directly into a web browser... and there was that discussion on whether to include a blurb above a story describing, "what the blue underlined words were for".

When innovation does happen, its done as "skunkworks" and even then, among the praise are accusations of "renegade" work.

This is among the top (of a depressingly long list) reasons I think the battle is already lost. It's 2007, now is not the time to be relearning basic HTML.

I just don't understand it, there are people in the mix who really are trying to save this industry but who are battling of all things, this industry.

(posted anonymously for obvious reasons, sorry)

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't explain how precisely you hit the nail on the head.

Please publish this anonymously, though.

I want to keep my job for the time being until I can build a life raft and get out of the sinking ship.


9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truly said. Gen-X and Gen-Y are against institutions. Look at the classroom of today vs. the classes of yester years. The time has changed -- it's collaboration now vs. lecturing earlier. Same goes for news. I wanna know the news from the people who are in my social proximity (networks as facebook calls it).


PS>I'm a geek and don't belong to the media industry, but I watch it very closely.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The state of journalism is so sad right now. The majority of top editors don't get it. Publishers only care about the immediate bottom line, and a lot, if not most, of top editors on the Web staff don't know what they are doing.

How can you have your managing editors online not be well versed in Web technologies and what is possible? I see countless organizations who have someone lead their Web staff who has no business being online, let alone being a leader.

My college newspaper understood what users wanted more than most MSM publications right now, and this was in the early part of the decade.

It's shocking, and this post is frankly depressing. I'm a Web editor at my paper, and I've got battles to fight. I have to speak up a lot to top editors because they don't have the knowledge to succeed online.

12:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So what is the difference between this and the last 5, 10, 15 generations? The term "young turks" wasn't invented in the last five years. It's just that now the young turks are in media and not other industries and with the advent of mass information distribution via new media methods (which I have to point out is different from all other previous medias because it is updated/accesiiable while still at work. think about it, you didnt watch tv all day or listen to the news radio at work before the internet; but now with the web, while at work you spend much more time not only reading news but news filtered through individuals and not companies).

Wah. Bullshit to all the young turks who think they have great ideas and skills cuz they're young and are the ones being catered to. A smart person is smart whther he is young or old. there are plenty of clueless 20-30 somethings.

I still look and 80% of blogs are just pointing out articles that a real media firm has either developed themselves or is covereing. if we had no old media, who's going to go out and do interviews, report, etc etc.

Isn't the honeymoon for blogs ov3r yet? they're useful, AS COMPANIONS to old media, not as replacements.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This article is dead on.

I'm a former computer programmer and a current newspaper journalist and the situation seems untenable.

Editors want results with no staffing or software, yet the underpaid lunkheads who run our horrific Web site won't even give us a password to their servers. We're expected to be filing stories, making videos, writing blogs and covering the same territory we did three years ago with 25 percent fewer writers. Yet editors don't have a clue how to manage technology--and most won't even acknowledge it's their job to do so.

The few of us with any technical ability get rewarded with extra duties, impossible expectations, and the fallout from debilitating turf wars with Web managers who are either newspaper rejects or 22-year-olds who couldn't get a real programming job. If I stay on the editorial side for 5 years, I might match the salary I made when I was 22.

I'm not about to bail out, though; watching my bosses run the ship into the ground is too good a show to miss. And hey, once they've done that, maybe they'll start listening to me.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


This is exactly what I've been thinking for the past two years. I'm 28 and in newspapers, and I feel like we will never get to the point where we need to be. It will always be a game of catch up until it eventually won't even matter any more.

It's depressing.

4:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your brain-drain post has particular resonance. I am seeing some of the dynamics/issues mentioned there playing out as we prepare to redesign our website (long overdue) and are navigating the politics of "control" with other non-newsroom divisions.

Like many newspaper websites, this one moved out of the newsroom during the dot.com boom then back in (sort of) a few years after -- but only for purpose of news-content providing. Lots of us are still paying for that misstep by our newspapers, IMHO.

I believe that if we, here, don't succeed in getting more ownership of our redesign and put that in the hands of several bright, young staff members we've hired in the past year, it will hurt us...and we will lose those staff members.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. It's like you read my mind (and that of at least 6 or 7 of my coworkers).

8:54 PM  
Blogger -30- said...


So what is the difference between this and the last 5, 10, 15 generations?

Well for starters, not all these "Young Turks" are young. Age is becoming irrelevant, thankyouverymuch.

Secondly, at issue is not some age-old battle between young and old, that will always exist. No this is an entire industry shift that a lot of people (some of whom tend to be young) are saying "Whoa, hey, change ahead!" and no one is listening.

...real media...

"Whoa, hey, change ahead!"

10:33 PM  
Blogger pharmalot said...

The idea that blogs are companions to old media, and not replacements, isn't far off the mark. However, that can depend on the kind of blog - whether it's designed simply to provide commentary now and then, or attempt to keep up with the news on a consistent basis.

I have some insight into this because I run a newsy blog called Pharmalot. As the name hopefully implies, the subject matter is the pharmaceutical industry and its issues. It's owned by The Star-Ledger of New Jersey, where I've worked for a dozen years as a business writer, although this past year, I've done nothing but the site.

I try to keep it fresh and filled with as many original items as possible. And so I do reporting every day in hopes of coming up with posts that MSM would like to have in its pages. And I've done that. I've broken stories this year, including a huge data breach at Pfizer (turned out to be the first of three).

Anyway, getting to this point wasn't easy. But I do know sites such as mine offer the possibility of one day replacing some MSM functions. Perhaps I'd need a team of people to expand the workload I currently handle by myself. But the potential is there. It may a blog, but that's just a name. I think the possibilities are plentiful.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cheers to whoever wrote this article.
I worked at several online outfits and noticed that the producers were treated horribly, and berated by reporters and editors.
The senior online editors were transfers from print operations who not only had no business in an online outfit, but had to be told everything in layman's terms like a child.
The talent is frustrated because they feel they went into news to do good, only to be beat down and told, 'We are the journalists, not you.' If this is how newspapers treat their techno guides, they may deserve their fate...

5:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am resigning after 7 years of working for a major daily's online arm.

It has been incredibly disheartening to watch our corporate parent ignore the power and potential of the Internet, then finally awake to it in the last two years.

Unfortunately they have walked in and started systematically destroying any progress we have achieved and begun imposing a narrow-minded dead-tree mentality to a landscape that does not benefit from it.

They just don't get it, are not willing to listen to suggestions and seemingly dead-set to drive themselves to failure in order to fulfill what they *imagine* is the correct course of action.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am resigning after 7 years of working for a major daily's online arm.

It has been incredibly disheartening to watch our corporate parent ignore the power and potential of the Internet, then finally awake to it in the last two years.

Unfortunately they have walked in and started systematically destroying any progress we have achieved and begun imposing a narrow-minded dead-tree mentality to a landscape that does not benefit from it.

They just don't get it, are not willing to listen to suggestions and seemingly dead-set to drive themselves to failure in order to fulfill what they *imagine* is the correct course of action.

9:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon @ 5:05, I know exactly what you mean. I'm in my late 20s and have worked as a producer at a metro daily the past few years. No matter how much top editors preach about online innovation and new ideas - they can't practice it because they don't respect their online employees' ideas.

I have reporting experience and two journalism degrees, but I frequently have dinosaur reporters and editors treat me like IT support staff and dismiss my ideas because I'm not "one of them".

One day, I'll be the only one left after the dinosaur reporters and my online coworkers (who don't even know html) get laid off. I guess then they'll understand.

10:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a dead tree refugee, I think that the truth of the original post has been dragged too far in the comments.

Yes, younger and web-savvy people can be frustrated at old media outfits, but the problem isn't so much dinosaurs saying no, no, no. I've worked for several newspaper companies and I always found it easy to get old folks to buy in to new ideas, to even become champions of new ideas.

The problem is the decision-making by committee. There are more people who can veto an idea than there are who have the power to greenlight things and "no" is the default position when there is doubt. That problem is compounded by the fact that everything we do today is assumed to be worth doing (instead of having to prove that its value continues) while new things have to prove their worth before they even exist.

A bunch of young people in charge can't change that and just blowing up the process isn't an answer either because saying yes to too many things is a recipe for chaos.

One step in the right direction that I'd like to see (and that I think is forming at Landmark where I worked until a few weeks ago) is an annual budget for new ideas and a decision-making process where the goal is to find several things to say yes to. After the best ideas are tried, they get evaluation and the ones that work live while the ones that don't make room for new experiments.

10:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've worked in th dead-tree media for 15 years now and have seen the industry creak into the Internet age. And I can't tell you how many times I HAVE heard the word "No" when good ideas come up. Part of it is the crappy excuse for leadership I'm faced with currently, but it's a common problem.

For instance, we've been meeting for more than a year on how to stop the bleeding from Sunday circulation. Countless hours lost, good ideas swept away. And I just attended ANOTHER meeting where the boss said we need to come up with ideas to save Sunday.


It's beyond frustrating and the people in charge, with some notable exceptions, are dragging the ship down with their own sinking careers.

I'm looking to jump ship at the best opportunity. It may be outside the biz unless I can find a forward-thinking newspaper that doesn't fear change. Bottom line is, newspapers are killing themselves.

5:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ummm...just cuz kids grew up consuming lots of online media doesn't necessarily mean they know how to make it. I've worked at news orgs and my experience was that the young 'uns have more tech cred than their older co-workers, even when it's undeserved. The little twitterers were always asked to do the cooler, edgier stuff, cuz they were "more techy". Pains me to listen to the whining.

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have reporting experience and two journalism degrees, but I frequently have dinosaur reporters and editors treat me like IT support staff and dismiss my ideas because I'm not "one of them".

This is so incredibly true, I'm surprised I didn't write it.

If one more of the reporters refers to me as "the tech guy" I'm gonna lose it.

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've worked in online and newspapers for more than a decade now.

I put in my time working in the industry while online was the redheaded stepchild that "those crazy internet kids" built.

Now we're finally getting some traction in newsrooms and I have to say that even though it can be frustrating having to wait while everyone catches up, it's also quite a wild ride.

It's frustrating to see "print only" people being in charge of Web sites because they're "real journalists." But I think it's up to the people who want to make the change actually MAKE THE CHANGE. And making change is rarely easy.

Do I get to do everything I want to? No. Do I have enough people on my team to even come close to completely all our projects? Hell, no. But I can see my boss trying. And I see my staff excited and outperforming just about everyone else.

Now if I could only get the parent company to understand that we're a newspaper -- we have daily deadlines, not monthly or quarterly ones. And if I could get IT to realize that they have to help and we don't want their jobs that would be awesome.

Imagine a company working together instead of fighting each other for control.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think this really has to do with age at all - it has to do with tech savvy and open-mindedness to change the way we do business ....which seems to come more naturally to we younger people.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Must admit that much of what you write exists over the other side of the pond in the UK.

Just a couple of weeks ago a leading figure in UK newspapers said the problem for the industry wasn't the internet but the short sightedness of bosses:


I agree with the sentiment of your interviewee at the end of the piece who says online publishing has such potential, why shackle yourself to the wheel of a sinking ship?

2:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one of the many reasons I left my MSM newspaper job. And many of the other commentors are right: It is not just about age. It's more a state of mind, an inability or unwillingness to change. It's also a lot about egos. Telling your executive editor that the project she wants you to spend the next several weeks working on simply won't be used the way you think it will just isn't going to go over well.

6:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another issue that adds to the laundry list of problems is the lack of willingness from management to INVEST in online content and avenues to produce online content.

I work as a photographer at a mid-sized daily and had been pushing for the ability and funding to start doing audio slide shows and other multimedia for over a year and a half. All I was told was that there was not any money in the budget to get equipment and such. I decided to invest in the equipment for myself (another ugly topic for a another time), ran an end-around to get it on the web and won several awards from some packages.

Well, five months ago the M.E. decided that online video and other multimedia MUST be produced everyday for our .com.

Yet, with this new task at hand they refused to provide us with tools to produce any semblance of quality good enough to keep a reader watching.

The concept running rampant in the industry of "just good enough" is poisoning most of the staff that I work with. When I started at my paper there were three full-time and one part-time web staffers. We now have one full-timer and one half-timer.

Instead of investing in people who know how to produce and use content in our .com the reporters, page designers and photographers all have to produce the web content. Most of which don't know HTML from AWOL.

The constant focus by management and the "upper powers" on the bottom line is destroying the staff's ability to do our job effectively. I understand the need to make money in order to stay in business, but remember that it takes money to make money.

So, we continue to generate what would appear to be mediocre content of fantastic opportunities and work to get the decision makers understand that we are on the cusp of falling into one of two sides of the rocky mountain top. One is full of crystal clear ponds with lush vegetation and splendor, the other an empty barren landscape of monotone rocks and dust.

We'll see where it goes...

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For any person, young or old, who gets it, has talent and passion ...

Send me your resume.

Here's your chance to work for the best online team in the industry.

7:53 PM  
Blogger Ken said...

CQ may be unique in journalism because it has a business model that truly is built around the web. And we're hiring. So after you send your resumes to Howard, send them to me, too, at ksands at cq dot com

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Their own self-imposed political correctness has so ham-strung the mainstream media that it is nearly impossible to actually say the words necessary to make a point.

It has come down to baby talk like saying .. the N word or the S word or the F word ... goo goo gaga people.

Of course whatever point they try to make nowadays usually only comes down to "the right bad, the left good".

All the rest is boring advertising.


10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No offense, but, do any of you have a clue as to it isn't going to matter one bit how many IT people work on the problem of the MSM morphing to online when the content still sucks. It seems many of you are getting the arranging-the-deck-chairs-on-the Titanic syndrome going on with the MSM.

It's the content, the stupid, insipid, agenda driven, pc laden garbage that has turned the public, who aren't as stupid as you think, off. The arrogance of journalists, not the brightest bulbs on the academic porch, is astounding.

6:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure why you bothered to post anonymously.

Your bosses wouldn't know how to find this, or any other clue.

5:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golly. A piece slagging the media using only anecdotes and anonynous sources. Yes, you bloggers are such superior journalists.

5:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymity is essential when most journalists would be fired for saying out loud what has been written, even if they think it every day.

Over six years, I've seen seven figure sums invested in websites built around the ideas of managers with print rather than web experience, whilst dedicated, professional, and indeed award winning online staff are totally ignored.

Even when the top level of a company suddenly 'gets' what is happening, they never fight there way down through their middle management underlings to make it happen effectively.

That's why my best work and most interesting projects take place outside of 9am-5.30pm

7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend within my company sent this to me - I've been seriously doubting my place in this industry. I started out as a journalist several years ago and am now a staff reporter, responsible for our website, print products, photography, editing, and so forth.

Though I see the benefits of web usage, open source technology, etc., even with a well-thought out and prepared business plan, no one in upper management is interested. So I'm doing it myself and when successful, I'll sell it to them.

Thanks for the inspiration!!!!!!!!!

2:02 PM  

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