And the truth (or at least, an attempt at redressing the balance)

An apology

On Monday night I posted a ranty tweet which I followed up on Tuesday. In essence, I was registering my surprise that a digital journalist at an internal event admitted they didn’t know what “CMS” stood for.

There were a couple of reactions to the tweet, mostly from people arguing (skilfully) that not knowing the definition of an acronym doesn’t necessarily amount to not knowing the concept itself, which I agreed with. In casual (alcohol-influenced…) conversation with workmates this evening, though, it turns out I ruffled a few feathers with that tweet – all credit to my colleague Will Franklin for having the balls to tell me he thought I was out of line.

I wrestled with posting it: beforehand I talked it through with my partner and explained that the event where I heard this soundbite (an internal, Guardian staff-only version of the Hacks/Hackers meetup) was an inclusive space and that I didn’t want to discourage people from attending, or continue the myth that web development is a members-only domain where you have to know the specific lingo/jargon in order to make headway. The event itself is a fantastic opportunity for devs and non-devs alike to meet up and talk about digital journalism.

I don’t have a Facebook account and often use Twitter to register quick reactions and my personal thoughts on things as they happen, which have (on occasion) turned into something bigger while I slept overnight. It turned out that in this instance, the things I’d posted had caused colleagues of mine to discuss my tweet (and presumed attitude) in internal emails. When I first heard this I thought it was a bit odd that people were talking about stuff I’d said without involving me, until I realised that that was exactly what I’d done to the person whose admission I was referencing in my original tweet.

With that in mind, I’d like to apologise for coming off as exclusive and snobbish: I strive in my work and my personal life to be inclusive of others and highlight occasions when people are marginalised and ignored. In this instance I pointed to an individual (albeit without identifying information) and registered my concern that they didn’t know a technical term I thought would be commonplace. A colleague this evening pointed out that I couldn’t define the term “monad” (a technical term for a software concept… I think), despite the fact that I’ve almost certainly made use of them in my career as a developer. This is a completely fair point and one I failed to consider when making my initial complaint.

I’ll make no secret of the fact that I’m pretty unhappy in my job at the moment and feeling fairly negative towards the Guardian right now (this is another blog/rant entirely…), which I think influenced my complaining tweets during this event. This is no excuse, though, and doesn’t change the impact of my words on the person I was referring to (or those who saw it).

So: while I won’t deny I found it surprising to hear of a journalist who didn’t know the term “CMS”, I agree that the way I highlighted it and the act of drawing attention to it didn’t add anything to the problem (if indeed it is a problem) and wouldn’t have made the individual in question feel more welcome at that event.

What am I going to do about it? For one, take the person concerned for a coffee and talk about what we can do to break down boundaries between technical nerds like myself and the people on the frontlines of journalism (watch this space to see how that goes). I’d be interested in other things you think would be worth doing here, too. Let me know.

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    The Guardian is known for employing snobs, even in web development. That’s no surprise. But what separates it from the other rags is that its employees can (and, more importantly, do) apologise. Humility is a thoroughly underrated trait. Fair play, Matt. All the best with that coffee.