Last week I posed a question: do local public TV/Radio stations need someone with working html/css/js/web accessibility skills? The question was deliberately ambiguous, because after all what are “working” skills? (I know someone who still uses tables for page layout.) I wanted to provoke a (respectful) conversation and I still want to do that. So it’s only fair to say what I think about this question.
I think it depends.
A radio station with a staff of four is not going to have a full-time webmaster (outdated as the term may be, you know what I mean).
A joint licensee in a top market probably needs to have a digital team with specialized skills including actual developers, if it wants to compete strongly in that market. I frequently look at the SCPR, OPB, and KQED sites and it’s clear each has a strong web team with high-level skills. (BTW Tim Olson, nice new responsive home page!)
Stations like mine are somewhere in between; we can’t afford multiple positions, but most of us have at least one full-time digital staff member with skills that are somewhat wide, but probably not extremely deep. Some of us are better with design, or coding, or managing a CMS, and it shows when you look our websites and apps. I tend to collaborate most effectively with this category, because we can easily learn from each other and improve on our weaknesses together. The iMA has been extremely helpful in this collaboration, and I would love to help build on it however possible.
But my concern about webskillz extends beyond online staff. I see a basic lack of digital literacy among our staff and management. They are smart people who are experts in their areas, but the times they are changing fast. I think you can’t make good operational decisions about the interweb, let alone strategic ones, without understanding how it works.
We should know about the anatomy of a website, especially the one used by our station.
We should know how a browser works, how a server works, how a database works, and how they work together to serve content.
We should know that a url returns resources, hopefully in a structured and usable form. We should be able to look at a url and know basically what it means.
We should know the difference between http and https (and ftp and sftp) and why it matters.
We should know something about how web pages and sites can get broken or slow to respond.
We should know that every web page has two faces, one for humans and one for machines that crawl the internet.
We should know about good metadata practices, and how this now plays into everything.
We should know what it takes to author online content, construct views, and build and support web applications. We don’t have to know how to do all these things, but we need to know the concepts and language.
We should know what an SLA is with a web service provider, and how to protect station interests. This usually requires understanding the nature of the service to be provided.
We should know how easy some of this stuff is, and which parts are hard.
We should have some appreciation for how fast things are changing, and the need to keep learning.
By “we” I mean someone at the local station and it doesn’t have to be the web person. If we were to work on expanding our basic online literacy at the local level, we’d be in better shape to talk about the right mix of shared services and local resources.
I will not be offended if you argue with any of this. I’m just interested in understanding where we are, and how we can best move forward.