What does it mean to be “digital first?”

For the past several years, there has been a lot of talk about “Web first newsrooms.”  The basic premise is that a news organization’s website should no longer be an afterthought,

In fact, the idea is that the Web should be the most important platform served — more important than any legacy medium, such as print or broadcast.

But the reality is that most news organizations just talk the talk, they don’t really walk the walk.  Now, Buzz Machine’s Jeff Jarvis says newsrooms will have to be “digital first” to survive.  And he shares some intriguing thoughts about what that means.

Digital first, aggressively implemented, means that digital drives all decisions: how news is covered, in what form, by whom, and when. It dictates that as soon as a journalist knows something, she is prepared to share it with her public. It means that she may share what she knows before she knows everything (there’s a vestige of the old culture, which held that we could know everything … and by deadline to boot) so she can get help from her public to fill in what she doesn’t know. That resets the journalistic relationship to the community, making the news organization a platform first, enabling a community to share its information and inviting the journalist to add value to that process. It means using the most appropriate media to impart information because we are no longer held captive to only one: text. We now use data, audio, video, graphics, search, applications, and wonders not yet imagined. Digital first is the realization that news happens with or without us — it mimics the architecture of the internet, end-to-end — and we must use all the tools available to add value where we can.

His post on the future of print is a good read.  It describes the cultural shift that still has not taken place in most newsrooms, and the article is just as relevant to TV news operations as it is to newspapers.

For example, television newsrooms such as WNCN in Raleigh have tried to embrace a modified version of Jarvis’ radical new approach with limited success.  In the early days of the station’s new focus on the Web, the journalists who worked there struggled with the idea that their stories were more valuable online than on air.

And therein lies the big question — can working journalists and those being trained for traditional journalism jobs change their mindsets and adapt to a more intense focus on digital delivery?  If so, what will it take to make that happen?  And what role should journalism schools play?