The best thing about being on a team…

…is that you don’t have to do everything yourself.

That’s what I’m finally learning after 3.5 months at my new job. Everyone has a specialty, and the best thing you can do is let everyone do what they do best, whether it’s design, code, manage, write, shoot, edit, record, or evangelize.

I spent my lunch hour today forgetting to eat while having a cup of coffee with Chris Jordan, a photographer and multimedia specialist out of Montana who’s in the Bay Area right now. (Hint: Hire him.)

We compared notes on what’s going on in online news, and it definitely reminded me that we all have our own skill sets, and newsrooms are looking for journalists who can do any one of the things we specialize in.

The task for j-schools, of course, is to teach every journalism student at least ONE of the following skills:

  • Multimedia: Video and audio recording and editing, plus any Flash skills at all. This gets you hired.
  • Interactivity: Know everything about blogs, and think about how to manage and moderate commenting systems, forums, and community sites. This gets you hired.
  • Data: Be a wizard with Excel at the least, maps mashups if possible, and Django if you want to go further down the rabbit hole. This gets you hired.

If you’re in school and you’re not taking a class where you’re learning at least one of these things, start teaching yourself now. Get a blog and start reading blogs about new media and the Web. Experiment. Learn.

Knowing how to do nothing but report and write gets you hired … as a freelancer.

10 thoughts on “The best thing about being on a team…”

  1. ah, sounds like you’re taking the old Ford assembly-line idea behind education. A “major” is a good idea, with someting of a focus, but specialization at the college level could end up inhibiting future employability. Expertise in a field often comes through experiences–comes after trying out different things and saying “hey, I think I want to do *this* particular thing.”

    I hesitate to inhibit the curiosity of anyone–young or older returning student–who might want to explore and decide after working a bit to become an expert.

    Your thoughts about “teach yourself” are very important and what people have been doing for many years. There are folks that are lifelong, outside-the-classroom learners, and that, too is where one develops expertise. We must always remain curious, always developing our skills and resisting pidgeonholse– or else suffer what used to be called Mao’s Iron Rice Bowl (and a kind of human “planned obsolescence) in the workplace.


  2. The two key words in this post = “at least.”

    I certainly would love to study with, hire, and/or work with five-tool players who know more than a little about all these areas, plus narrative journalism and any Web development programming language, but that’s still a relatively rare find.

    Regarding the assembly line: As undergraduates in film school, my classmates and I were required to spend our first two years taking approximately the same classes, to get a taste o a wide array of skills.

    Then, in the second half of a four-year program, we were free to specialize, to learn a craft, a trade, or an art, depending on your creativity and point of view.

    I’m pretty sure that’s how most schools are supposed to work, but I know plenty of students who leave some sophomore-year requirement for their last semester, or skip prerequisites because no one stops them from doing so, or who jump around in the curriculum based on scheduling conflicts.

    But those are just bureaucratic problems.

    The real issue in schools might be the attitude that these multimedia/interactivity/data skills aren’t “real” journalism, or a little less darkly, the catch could be having an instructor around who knows anything about one of the triad, much less all three.

    My main point is this:

    Mid-career journalists, j-profs, and students — don’t feel daunted by the task ahead — you don’t need to learn every coding language and know how to work an HD cam and blog for three years before you can get a job as a reporter.

    But learn *something* that sets you apart from the pack, or your resume will be relegated to the “can-write-but-not-much-else” pile.

    It’s going to be a big stack.


  3. The real issue in schools might be the attitude that these multimedia/interactivity/data skills aren’t “real” journalism, or a little less darkly, the catch could be having an instructor around who knows anything about one of the triad, much less all three.

    Bingo! At this point in time, that appears (from everything I hear and see) to be at the crux of the problem. But we can’t totally blame the institutions doing the teaching. Rather, we can look at what’s going on in big and small newsrooms, how they are having a very difficult time understanding what of the new technoligies to incorporate and how to incorporate them (the LATimes recently had something of a coup d’etat an are going full-tilt on bringing all three into their newsroom asap)

    Unfortunately, what’s happening at some places is they’re not giving the mid-careerists the chance to learn, and aren’t all that accepting of newcomers who aren’t coders. There was an excellent report issued a few months back (I’m still looking for it–should use delicious) that said what you’re saying about necessary newsroom skills for the future. If I can track it down, I’ll leave the url.


  4. I’ve actually got an AEJMC paper on “Bridging newsrooms and classrooms: Preparing the next generation of journalists for converged media” sitting on my desk, I just haven’t had the chance to read it yet.

    When I do, you’ll hear about it here.


  5. But there’s also the danger of becoming pigeonholed and too comfortable in your current knowledge. One should certainly let everyone use their strengths to make a project happen. But I’m a strong believer that people should still continue to educate themselves about what it takes to do others’ jobs. When the day comes that the industry changes yet again, one can easily become obsolete by not constantly learning and expanding.


  6. I like the image of the five-tool player from baseball. Sure, there are a few of those around, but it’s nice to have a solid-hitting, error-free second-baseman to fill out the lineup. You can’t have a team full of A-Rod’s. Can you imagine the ego overload! 🙂


  7. Great post. It’s always nice to see people doing what they do best. Never much happened at my old paper.

    One question for people who know more than me (lots of you around here): Where do you see editors fitting into the team?


  8. Chris – Editors have the same job, nevermind the medium – direct reporters in their storytelling, bring the news value to the surface of all ideas, point reporters in the direction of questions that should be answered.

    Lucky them.

    Obviously, it helps if they can make a good judgment as to what online element would complement a print/text story, but that’s just gravy. A good editor who knows how to handle reporters will know how to handle multimedia reporters as well.


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