It’s important for people making decisions on the Web operations of journalism Web sites to be heavy Internet users, be on the cutting edge and be willing to try anything and everything out on their own.
Web native != young. Let’s get that straight. But it usually does, and if you don’t know what that first sentence means, you’re probably not a Web native.
No, people leading journalism Web sites don’t need to be master programmers or multimedia experts. Hardly. But they should at least try — and more importantly, understand — the features they purpose (or shoot down) for their Web sites.
For instance, a lot of people are talking about how we need to make journalism Web sites more social. But if you’re not a user of social networks, how would you ever know what that means? I’ve used a lot of social networks, and I can honestly say that the majority of them I have little use for — and I’m not alone.
Many social networking applications make little sense for journalism. And our users feel the same way. It’s important to be out on the Web and to try new things. It’s also important to see what other people think about new Web applications and services.
Our users are just like the general Web population. How can you really understand what they want in a Web product if our Web leaders aren’t out there among the people?
There are a lot of print holdouts in top Web positions at news organizations around the country. I’d want at least a few Web natives at the top of my organization. I’ve seen newspapers try and purpose a lot of features and changes that make little sense, because I think the people at the top don’t really understand the Web and what users want.
Obviously, it makes sense to have someone who is a good manager at the top of any organization. And as long as that person is in the business of managing — not in the business of trying to create things he may know little about — he’ll probably be an asset to his company.
This doesn’t just mean editorial people. We would be remiss to not remember who controls the purse strings. In fact, many Web operations at journalism organizations are under the business or marketing staffs’ control.
There are several kinds of Web managers that news organizations should be wary of.
- The print guy who wants to save his job – This is the guy who understands that he may not have a print job much longer (usually an editor on the print side, not a content producer). This person is probably not the greatest at what he does on the print side, but he realizes that the Web can be a life boat. So, he volunteers to help out on the Web site (or lead the editorial operations at a smaller newspaper), and his print superiors like the initiative. Unfortunately, he just knows a few HTML tags, thinks CSS is an STD and isn’t a Web native — just a Web opportunist. And he knows the people in charge don’t know any better.
- The Web purgatory guy – This is the guy who was stuck on the Web way back in the day as a form of punishment. He didn’t get along with some of the print higher ups, but he’s not a bad journalist. So, they decided the best way to deal with him was to stick him on the staff that nobody at a newspaper in 1997 wanted to be on — the Web staff. And he’s still there today.
- The marketing maestro – Because journalism companies didn’t take the Web seriously when it arrived, a lot of editors and publishers thought of the Web as more of a marketing tool. Thus a lot of journalism Web operations are controlled by the marketing staff. If your content site is headed up by a marketing person, your content probably sucks. Therefor, your Web site probably sucks. But boy does it ever have a lot of promotions and ads on it.
- The print guy who thought the job sounded like fun – He’s not an opportunist, but he’s just as clueless. Some high up editor asks this guy if he wants to work on the “new” online desk. And this guy thinks it will be fun. It’s not his fault, but this is what happens when you have the blind leading the blind.
I mean honestly would you stick a bunch of Web people with little print experience in charge of a print publication? I guess if you wanted to fail you might consider that a viable option.
Let’s be real here: Web operations can only thrive when they are staffed by people who get the Web and enjoy using the Web. These are people who categorically prefer the Web over print publications. If this doesn’t describe your journalism organization, then you are doing something wrong.