Thursday, May 1, 2008

Knowing Specialized Stuff

I am going to do a flip here and talk briefly not about about what people in general know, but rather what people who do specialized jobs need to know.

Being a journalism guy, obviously I'll talk about reporters, mainly due to a report out today on education reporting. Here's the lede:

Reporters who cover education believe overwhelmingly that the beat requires specialized knowledge. Yet 39 percent of education reporters surveyed in February 2008 by the Hechinger Institute say they've received no such training, and just 6 percent report to an editor whose sole responsibility is supervising education coverage.

This is an old story in journalism -- assign someone a beat but provide them no special training. "You'll pick it up as you go," some grizzled editor says. "It's not brain surgery."

Only, sometimes, it is.

In the real world, companies train their people. Not journalism. Sure, a lucky few visit Poynter or the American Press Institute. Damn few. But it is vital we keep those country club memberships available for publishers, who have more or less led newspapers to their doom.

What people know is sometimes how to do their job, the little details. Psychologists often call this sophistication, as in picking up on nuances and using a base of knowledge to recognize and learn new facts. Journalism is gutting itself to remain profitable. The ultimate losers? People who care about the world, because what journalists know about what they cover will become more and more threatened in a world that becomes more and more complicated.

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