Making It Cool to be Positive

Journalists are skeptical by trade. It’s in their nature to question the motives of sources or to check and recheck facts. They are taught to be objective, keep their feelings out of their stories, and sometimes, perhaps in an attempt to mask their feelings, they lean toward the negative. Even the slightest detectable enthusiasm for a subject can make them the target of harsh criticism/ridicule from their peers.

Technologists are inherently positive, I think. Innovation happens when people imagine the possibilities, not squelch the potential. That doesn’t mean jumping down the rabbit hole of every single widget that’s introduced, but it’s the initial inclination to the positive vs negative that makes all the difference. And, I think maybe that’s why journalism has been slow to adapt and adopt new technologies. That initial inclination to seek out the downside or to jump to criticism has squelched the enthusiasm necessary to seek out new opportunities and propose advantages.

Being critical is a great skill for a journalist, but have we pushed it too far into the realm of the negative to be able to innovate? I believe we are too early in the life of many of the online and social technologies that we are currently using to jump to a quick dismissal. Yes, some of them are released half-baked, not fully featured. But in technology, that’s called a beta. It’s something that can be improved upon with feedback, hopefully constructive and not contemptuous.

That’s not to say that journalists don’t have passion. They have passion for the truth and for the important role of the press in our democracy. They are passionate about the stories they tell. But there’s something about the process and the culture that makes that first question “Why won’t this work?” rather than “How could it succeed?”

I’m a writer, but don’t have the same journalistic background of some of my peers. I came to doctoral studies in journalism because I was excited about the potential for the average person to develop an online presence and communicate to an audience. This was way before blogs and social media, and I didn’t envision the current Web 2.0 environment. I just thought we’d all learn html and have Web sites.  But I suspected that this would create challenges and opportunities with traditional media. I feel that it is my position as an outsider that has allowed me to be (somewhat) immune to the pressures of the culture.

I write about music on my blog onthatnote.com and for Texas Music Magazine. I feel lucky to live in Austin and am very passionate about the music I experience. I tend to write passionately and describe, rather than tear apart. I have too much respect for musicians to do that, couldn’t if you made me. Some might think I’m too soft, and it’s a different approach from the snarky critics that seems to pervade music journalism. I love music, and I hope that people who also love music will enjoy my stuff.

Musicians, too, often jump to the negative. I think many of them have been worn down by the industry. They think it’s super uncool for someone to engage in self-promotion, that the music should speak for itself (or maybe that expensive manager/label should speak for ya). I talk about potential, using FREE tools to get the word out, grow your fan base and cultivate the community around your music. It’s cooler to be jaded and surly.

Musicians are passionate about what they do. They’re artists and they’re innovative with their music. It’s what they know. But, step outside that comfort zone, and it’s just easier to come out with the negative than risk the sneering of their peers. They trade in “cool.”

When I think about every missed opportunity in my life, it’s because my initial reaction was to find fault or do what I thought I was supposed to do – the attempt-to-be-cool route. It took me a while to realize that I was succumbing to peer pressure rather than trusting my intuition.

I’m uncool in both worlds, but that’s OK. Not all journalists and musicians are like this. You see examples of tech innovation everywhere. But not nearly enough. The culture’s holding them back. Break on through to the uncool side. Or make it cool to be positive…

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