Lazy or Resourceful? It’s A Fine Line Online

I’ve subscribed to the Medill School of Journalism alumni list-serv for more years than I can recall–it’s been at least six, I think. It’s been a terrific resource as we grads seek sources for stories, hunt for full-time and freelance work opportunities, debate various journalism/marketing/PR issues and on and on…

For any given alum, me included, most of the posts are of minimal interest: an apartment sublet listing in Brooklyn, a marketing position in North Carolina, and, hey, who knows how to get a hold of Michael Moore?

On the other hand, there are some posts that are immensely relevant–like the one that my friend, freelance writer Ed Finkel, just posted seeking to interview alumni of the “Cherub” program at Northwestern University’s National High School Institute.

(I replied to Ed in about 7 seconds flat, a cyberspace version of the Arnold Horshack character on the 1970s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter. “Oooh, oooh, me, me!” I’m a 1985 Cherub, and am forever grateful for the experience and friendships it provided me.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, a recurring theme on the list-serv is the debate over just what is an appropriate use of the list-serv.

This week, the issue that’s flared up revolves around whether using the online community for relatively simple information—such as the name of the Chicago Tribune’s metro editor—constitutes laziness or resourcefulness. Along with that debate is this tangent: By responding to such simple queries, are we being helpful or merely enabling sloppy research habits?

One comment I found particularly insightful came from Holly Leber. An excerpt:

“I imagine the methods of teaching at Medill are somewhat different today than they were 25 years ago. Journalism certainly is different. We often have to get stories up on the internet within 20 minutes of news breaking; things are constantly moving. It’s rare that we have time to do everything the hard way if there is a faster way to get it done.

Furthermore, our society has become far more litigious and therefore people are more reluctant to talk to reporters. Cultivating sources is a process, and often a time consuming one. This does not accord well with the fast-paced nature of today’s news.”

Her last remark–about the time-consuming process of cultivating sources being in conflict with the fast-paced nature of news–means that, more than ever, it’s imperative that all professional communicators, whether journalist, publicist or anywhere in betweeen, view every interaction, on or off deadline, as an opportunity to expand their network.

The winners in this fast-paced environment, which is showing no signs of slowing, will be those who are adept at rapidly deploying the “delete” key and whose interactions are marked by a genuine others-focused, service orientation.

Kudos, then, to Trib reporter Jo Napolitano who kept her eye on the ball and provided the answer to the Tribune Metro editor inquiry. It’s Peter Kendall.

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