Calling digital journalists “gurus” is a cop-out

Journalism has, in my experience, had a difficult time figuring out what to call the people filling the technology centric jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago.

Pro tip: Guru is not a good option.

I’ve heard “news producer.” I’ve heard “homepage producer,” “content editor,” “social media editor,” and “Web editor.” I’ve been called a handful of those, with “Web producer” being the current iteration.

I often get confused head tips from people who aren’t journalists — and people who are journalists — when they ask what I do. That’s OK. I don’t mind explaining.

But a dangerous trend has emerged among other journalists. I see it happening during formal introductions or meetings, when someone is trying to communicate what I do.

There’s a moment of grasping for the right word — “producer” doesn’t mean much to people outside the industry — and too often, that word is “guru.” Every time that happens, I cringe.

Calling me a “guru” is a cop out. The last thing I want to do is give people who don’t understand my job an excuse to continue to do so, and that’s exactly what such a mystical titles does. The word conjures feelings of magic ponies and rainbows without saying anything about my actual skillset.

“Producer” is not as immediately descriptive as “photo editor” or “art director,” but it still connotes a refined set of responsibilities. Production is a job.

I understand the instinct. “Guru” feels complimentary and edgy, not unlike Google’s ninjas, and it rings of Webby-ness. But it fundamentally fails as a job description.

I am not a guru. I have a highly technical job that requires skills that should be described in language that communicates expertise.

“Reporter” and “editor,” for example, do that. And there is a hierarchy built into how most newsrooms are structured: There are senior reporters, section editors, managing editors, editors in chief.

The chain of command for Web work is less standardized and more malleable. As a producer, I’ve reported to lead news producers, digital managing editors, design directors and even, indirectly, a copy-desk chief-slash-standard editor, whatever that is.

So I get it. The organization of the Web world in the context of a newsroom is fairly new, and people don’t always know what to call things.

Please call me a producer. I swear I will patiently explain my job as often as needed. Because after years of doing this, I’ve realized the only way to make my title more familiar is to use it more often.

Post-publication edit, with thanks to Terry Parris Jr.: Here’s a video of this post in a nutshell.