A Home in the Digital World
November 6, 2017
BY JASON PRAMAS @JASONPRAMAS
Good journalists typically have four attributes: an ability to communicate information about the world around them to other people, training in the conventions of journalism, compassion for their fellow human beings, and deep knowledge of the areas they specialize in (which we call “beats” in the journalism trade). DigBoston, like any news outlet, obviously needs good journalists. And we’re constantly recruiting new talent. Yet as a city newspaper with a mission to provide the people of Boston’s many neighborhoods with useful information about their hometown, we need more than that. We need native Bostonians working for us.
More to the point, we need working-class native Bostonians. People with deep knowledge of the streets they grew up on. Because we’re very serious about our mission to cover ALL of Boston’s neighborhoods—not just the rich ones. But there’s a problem: Most of the people who want to work for us as reporters—and who know enough to think that there’s even a possibility of them doing so—have just three of the four attributes we’re looking for. They can communicate well, they are compassionate at some level, and they have journalism training. What they don’t have is deep local knowledge. Nor do they necessarily care much about all of Boston’s neighborhoods. Only the ones they hang out in.
These people who apply in droves to work at publications like DigBoston—and indeed all area news outlets that can pay something—are generally middle- or upper-middle-class folks in their 20s from outside of Boston that got degrees in journalism (or communications or literature or business or art and design) at one of our many area colleges. And that’s fine. They have every right to do so, and some of them end up working for us and doing a great job. But only after, and this is key, we help them learn more about the city they’re covering.
If we’re willing to work with people who have three of four qualities that make a good journalist out of the gate, then it’s only fair that we should go the extra mile and recruit local talent that has the other combination of three attributes: ability to communicate, compassion, and deep local knowledge. Because those candidates can definitely be trained in the conventions of journalism.
Readers may not realize it, but journalists did not traditionally go to college to learn their trade until recent decades. Journalists learned journalism by doing it. By becoming, essentially, apprentices to experienced journalists. Which worked well since journalism is many things, but it is not rocket science. It’s a way of collecting and presenting information. Once you learn its conventions, then you can be a working journalist.
So, are you a smart, compassionate, talkative person from one of Boston’s working-class neighborhoods? Can you put words in rows, and maybe take some pictures on your phone? Do you want to learn to be a journalist? Do you want to tell the world about the place you grew up? About its problems and its successes? About its corruption and its virtue? Its shame and its glory?
Then drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s talk. You, too, could make shit money and help save the world.
Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. He’s a townie, and his training in journalism was, shall we say, idiosyncratic.