Why many newsrooms frequently fight their online departments

by Jason Preston on August 25, 2008

“In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world,” President Thomas J. Whitmore announces, stepping up into the bed of an army truck, “and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind.”

His hair whips in the night wind and people around him stop what they’re doing to turn and watch.

“And should we win the day, the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice: We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive!”

One of the most memorable moments from the 1996 summer blockbuster film Independence Day, this scene carries an important lesson in teamwork, perhaps most famously phrased: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

The psychology of liking and disliking

Muzafer Sherif, one of the first social psychologists, conducted a now famous study in the 1950’s to examine the factors at play in getting boys at summer camp to like or dislike each other.

It turns out that one of the best ways to get people to hate each other is to:

  • Put them in regular contact with each other
  • Make it a competitive environment (split them into teams)

That’s it. The rest will magically take care of itself.

Sherif’s summer camp study found that simply by splitting the boys into two arbitrary teams and having them compete against each other created measurable feelings of dislike and hatred toward boys on the other team.

Even more incredibly, the effects of competition can be neutralized with relatively few cooperative exercises.

In the camp experiment, most of the ill-will was dispelled by forcing the students to fix the bus that drove the entire group into town. We as humans are predisposed, it seems, to forgive and forget when working towards a common goal.

Web journalists versus print journalists

Paul Balcerak noted in Wired Journalist how vicious the divide between print and web journalists can be.

Case in point: Debra Saunders’ article titled The death knell of what we need to know and Patrick Thornton’s acerbic post in response: Blah, blah, blah. Worst column ever.

What we have here is a competitive environment (the news room) and two teams (web journalists and print journalists). This kind of environment is practically guaranteed to manufacture some animosity, and I’m sure many of you have run into it. If you look at the comments on the Wired Journalists post, there can be no doubt.

You’re all one the same team

In an industry and an environment where people are worried about their job security as well as the fate of their entire industry, keeping newsroom morale high and co-worker relations civil can be both difficult and very important.

All journalists of all ages and all specialties need to remember that there is a common enemy: extinction.

If you are a web-native journalist, take some time this week and do one of the following:

  • Go to lunch with someone who’s anti-web. Buy their lunch. Talk about sports. Email a copy of this article to them. (*nirg*)
  • Offer to take a half-hour and teach some of your web tools to anyone who is confused by them.
  • Find someone who doesn’t get the internet yet. Brainstorm with them to come up with a story idea you can both work on together and that involves both print and online mediums. Pitch it to your editor.

If you are a print-native journalist, take some time this week and do one of the following:

  • Make a list of things you like about the internet in general. If you can’t think of any, start with “I’m sure that not everything about the internet is bad.”
  • Take something that you are working on that is cool, and ask a web-native journalist for ideas on how it could be augmented with online media tools. You don’t have to take any of the suggestions, but just listen to some of the possibilities.
  • Think of one thing you don’t understand about the internet. It can be “how do I make a hyperlink?” or “how do I edit and upload video?” or “what is the point of podcasting?” — whatever it is, go ask someone else in the newsroom who knows. Listen to their answer.

Remember that you are all on the same team. And smile a little bit. You are going to live on. You are all going to survive.

To learn more about the future of publishing, subscribe to the Eat Sleep Publish RSS feed.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Cool Links #8: Full of Warm Gooey Goodness « TEACH J: For Teachers of Journalism And Media
08.27.08 at 3:46 pm
Daily Post to RED66 09/04/2008 | RED66
09.03.08 at 5:34 pm


1 jope 08.25.08 at 3:00 pm

ā€œIā€™m sure that not everything about the internet is bad.ā€


2 Jason Preston 08.25.08 at 3:04 pm

šŸ˜‰ you’ve got to start somewhere!

3 Monica Guzman 08.25.08 at 4:44 pm

We are all on the same team. It’s what I try to remember at work, and what I try to tell people in the newsroom when they get frustrated with their co-workers. We’re all employed by the P-I. We’re all out to make it work. And darn it, we’re going to need to cooperate to do it.

P.S. – Nice reference to “Independence Day.” Just read “The Watchmen,” which, for reasons I can’t divulge for fear of spoiling the end of the upcoming movie, sends a similar message: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

4 Jason Preston 08.25.08 at 4:59 pm

@Monica – Good call! Watchmen definitely explores the same message.

I think that aside from learned helplessness, the biggest thing that’s really killing newsrooms is this internal division. There’s such a diverse and smart crowd behind every daily paper that finding solutions (or at least ideas to try) should be like eating M&Ms.

5 jope 08.25.08 at 5:09 pm

Heh, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is more than just a truism… it’s an obsession! For some of us anyway. šŸ˜‰

Sometimes I wonder if all the right-wing blathering about ” the liberal media conspiracy” is actually a clever bit of reverse psychology. The agents of intelligent journalism (which doesn’t coincide with the “liberal” label exactly, though it often overlaps) may not survive unless they start conspiring.

Comments on this entry are closed.