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McAdams On: IT vs. Editorial

OLD SCHOOL: Overheard recently in a room full of broadcasters: “We were off the air for 10 minutes and the IT guys wondered why that was a big deal!” I was reminded of a few years ago when I had an exclusive on a piece of breaking news. I was trying to get it posted and out in an email blast as soon as possible. My web dude at the time was busy having a sandwich. He worked remote, much to his great good fortune.

IT people live in a world of their own. Generally one under low lights and refrigeration. They seem to view the rest of us much the way early H. sapiens considered Mr. and Mrs. Neanderthal. Except in our case, ITs make the tools and we unITs use them. It sometimes seems that never the twain shall meet.

The primary problem with the IT/unIT schism is that each really has no idea what the other does. We only know we annoy one another. And that we unITs rely upon the ITs to do our jobs. When the systems fail, they tell us to file a ticket. When the biggest story of the month falls into your lap and you’re on deadline, the last thing you want to hear is “fill out a ticket.” You just want the software to work like it’s supposed to.

(I wish to interject here that I understand why the IT folks have the ticket system. The job is a bit like running a daycare center. At any given moment, there are 25 other people in the company with a computer emergency that must be resolved this instant! And some of those folks, even after having been asked the same question right off the bat in 32 previous incidents, have apparently not emptied their cache. Using a computer is a bit like driving a car--it never hurts to have minimal knowledge of how the thing works and how to repair it. But some of us can’t be bothered and that’s why the rest of us have to take a number. Thanks a lot.)

Getting back to the aforementioned cultural divide, ITs are accustomed to software failures and respond methodically, while the rest of us spontaneously combust. This is particularly true in media companies, where news is our core product. It is called “news” because it is “new.” In the wonderful world of online journalism, new constitutes approximately seven seconds or less. However, consumption duration is measured in minutes, so if you have momentary site failure, traffic generally recovers.

Ten minutes of down time on a TV station is a different story. That’s more than plenty of time for the audience to become fully engaged in something else. Like another TV station. Depending on the size of the station affected, that could be a few million bucks down the drain.

We unITs are often accused of resisting new technology or worse yet, change. Give me a break. Most media people I know move at least half-dozen times throughout their career, and anyone in the business for even 10 years has learned multiple software systems and mastered innumerable handheld devices. We are neither change- nor technology resistant. What we are averse to is stuff that doesn’t work, or takes five times longer to do the same thing as the stuff we used to use. That’s what we’re resistant to, not change or technology.

There’s a very simple remedy, and it involves the people creating and installing the tools shadowing those who use them. The technology and software used in newsrooms should be intuitive, reliable, and essentially invisible. Writers should be writing and editors should be editing. None of them should be coding, tagging, prioritizing, formatting and scheduling material, then waiting to see what actually comes out the other end.

Let’s communicate, people. unITs get better tools, ITs get fewer tickets, and incidents of spontaneous combustion drastically decline.
~ Deborah D. McAdams