Monday, April 23, 2012

What Does a Washington Post Blogger Resigning Say About the State of Digital Publishing?

While reading Sunday's Washington Post, I came across the headline "The Post fails a young blogger." This should be interesting, I thought, and read it. It was not only interesting but scarily familiar to me.

The article describes how the Post blogger responsible for blogPost just resigned because of the no-win nature of her job. Her job entailed writing an average of 5.9 blog posts per day approximating 500 words each with a goal of attaining 1-2 million "hits" a month (don't get me started on the term "hits"). She was a one-person operation, presumably making far less than "seasoned" journalists (the article makes reference to Post bloggers hoping to one day "graduate" to covering a beat). When she resigned she cited the great pressure involved in producing a huge quantity of high-quality, error-free content in such a pressure-cooker style with no training, little guidance or mentoring, and sparse editing. All I could think when I read that part was "yup."

As someone who manages the blog for a large organization, as well as runs their social media activities, I can absolutely feel this blogger's pain, and I know there are tons more just like me who share this same experience. Your job is to do something new that most people on staff don't understand and/or see value in. There is little or no guidance--after all, they hired you to show them the way with this newfangled digital/social media stuff. While traditional publications have whole staffs of writers, editors, graphic designer, if you are a blogger for an organization, chances are you are a staff of one with a lot tighter turnaround time than a print publication. There is likely pressure on you to prove that your job is not a waste of time. A clear career path that involves promotions--probably not in the cards, as your whole job is likely seen as an experiment which could be ended at any moment. Most people don't understand your job so mostly steer clear of you, unless you make a mistake--then, I assure you, you hear about it. 

In the article, the writer goes on to say that not only has this one blogger resigned, but he spoke with several "young bloggers" (because everyone knows only young people are digital-savvy enough to blog) at the Post and all shared the same sentiments about lack of guidelines and training in the face of incredible amounts of pressure to attract web traffic. Apparently several bloggers have already left and several more are thinking of quitting. Apparently the Post is just now coming out with the genius idea of cross-training journalists, giving digital journalists instruction in street reporting and traditional journalists training in social media and digital.

All I can think when I read stories like this or hear of similar experiences from my professional peers is "I don't get it." Everyone knows that the traditional publications model is dying. Print ad revenue is down and continuing to diminish, while online ad spend is up and projected to continue to rise. But the investment of time, resources and talent is still focused on the traditional model. Digital publications and staff with talents to support and grow those publications are not optional if an organization wants to be able to accommodate the digital ad spend their advertisers are budgeting for. People talk about flipping the publishing model all the time--when are people going to start looking at flipping the publishing STAFFING model to reward digital journalists instead of marginalizing them?

No comments: