Further notes on the new journalism skillset

Andrew Venegas, a journalism student at San Jose State University, asks in comments:

“How many skills do you think an online editor/reporter needs? Is HTML and CSS enough? Do you need to know Flash, Photoshop and Premiere Pro as well? How about Sound Studio? All in all, working for the paper you do today, how much are they asking of their new talent?”

Last question first: I can’t speak for the paper I work at, especially if we’re talking about hiring reporters.

That said, if I were in a position to hire a reporter, I’d be looking for a solid writer with Web skills.

  • I would want someone who knows enough HTML to write their own Web update into a content management system without needing training.
  • I would want someone who has no fear of a digital camera, a video camera, or an audio recorder.
  • I would want someone interested in using databases, maps, and public records as source material.
  • I would want someone who knows how to tell a story.

Now, let’s imagine that I were in a position to hire some sort of online news employee.

An applicant for the position would need to know HTML, understand how CSS works, use Photoshop for basic tasks all day long, and copy edit like he or she learned from Mack Lundstrom. Every candidate should better be able to get past that point.

Next, I’d be looking for one of the trinity: multimedia, interactivity, data.

  • Can you code a Flash stage for chaptered Soundslides?
  • Can you edit audio, photos, and video into a compelling multimedia presentation?
  • Can you manage a community of users?
  • Can you moderate comments and forums and reader-contributed stories and photos and video?
  • Can you build a maps mashup that feeds itself with data scraped from public records?
  • Can you design interactive graphics in Flash?

If the answer to any *one* of those questions is Yes, things are looking up, but just knowing that you should be able to answer Yes to some of these can get you hired these days.

There are still plenty of twenty-something j-school graduates out there walking around with plans to be the next Woodstein, and if you walk in wanting to be the next Holovaty or Curley or Willis or Waite or Hernandez, you’re a better job candidate than five Woodsteins as far as I’m concerned.

Which leads to the money quote, from Rob Curley: “Skillset is important. But mindset is most important.”

This part’s just for Andrew: Work on your videoblogging chops. Get it into iTunes. Start shooting and editing video often, and post it all. Post it to YouTube, also, just to illustrate your platform-agnosticism. Make that something you’re an expert at, and sell yourself as a guy who can shoot, edit, and code video, then build a community around it.

That’s pretty damn marketable right about now.

22 thoughts on “Further notes on the new journalism skillset

  1. I was just wondering about this the other day. I really dont think you need to be able to create your own websites, videos, and podcasts – but you need to know how to edit and distribute the content. A knowledge of online writing techniques (such as SEO) are key as well.

  2. First, great post. As someone who was until very recently in the position of being able to hire a handful of online folks at a local paper, I’ll second Rob’s idea that it’s more about the attitude than the aptitude. Most of this web stuff isn’t rocket science and if you are working at a half-decent online operation they’ll have people who know how to do some of the more complicated stuff. Know how to tell a good story, know how to visualize that story as more than words on paper (or a screen) and you’ll be a strong candidate. Do it a few times and you’ll be a great candidate. Andrew, unless you are dead-set on working for the NYT fresh out of college, don’t sweat it, you’re already way ahead of most people in this business.

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