Ahead of the game

Some journalism school students have reason to worry. They’re a few months away from graduating in 2008 with a print-and-A1-photo skillset circa 1988.

But five clips and a smile won’t get you much of a competitive edge these days in an increasingly crowded job market for reporters with straight-ahead text skills.

Mindy McAdams drives that point home in this advice for J-School students:

“If you have not taken any online skills courses at all, and spring is your final semester, and the intro online course conflicts with one of your required courses that you waited until now to take — sign up for the online course, and delay your graduation. Do you want to graduate? Or do you want a job?”

Sound advice.

Back to the lede: Some journalism students have reason to worry. Others are Kyle Hansen.

Kyle, an SJSU student, is working on his second internship at the moment; it’s at LoudonExtra.com working for Rob Curley under the washingtonpost.com’s umbrella.

Say it with me, kids: That’s awesome.

But Kyle still has questions about whether he’s made himself marketable enough for a job in online news and what he should learn next.

Five quick answers:

  1. From the sound of your internships, I’m betting you’re learning a particularly rare specialty: Community management. If you can successfully drive readers/viewers to participate in the news, there will be job opportunities for you.
  2. A photography class sounds like a good way to get some practice editing photos, thinking visually, and doing some basic stuff in Photoshop.
  3. What acronym you want to learn next greatly depends on how far down the rabbit hole you want to go. At your next job, you might not have anything to do with code and you might not want to. Like arguments over which video camera you should buy (and I’ll get to that), discussing which (if any) programming language you should learn next becomes a moot point if your job is generating, editing, and managing content. That said, if community management is on the horizon, I recommend you learn Drupal.
  4. Unless you’re going to learn how to feed data into Flash, a bit more like what you see the New York Times doing a lot of, don’t spend your time on it. (That’s a recommendation for Kyle. If you’re a multimedia shooter who already has plenty of Soundslides experience under your belt, then go nuts, learn to make beautiful Flash packages.)
  5. There are no fancy cameras or software suites necessary to learn how to shoot and edit video. If you have a point+shoot still camera with a video setting, use it. Practice telling little stories, even if they’re about your cat. Practice using a variety of shots. Edit using the home movie editing software that came with your computer: Windows Movie Maker or iMovie. That’s the way to learn the basics; if you arrive at your next job and find a fancy HD camera and Final Cut, great, you’ll learn how to push the right buttons to accomplish what you learned how to do with a sub-$200 camera and free software.

That’s all. Anyone else have any wisdom to impart on the class of 2008 as the thought of registering for next semester begins to creep out from under general ed midterms and past-deadline multimedia projects?

5 thoughts on “Ahead of the game”

  1. I graduate in May, but I do have some advice from being in classes with a lot of people who aren’t going to be marketable in the new era of journalism.

    Start a blog and play with it and the code for it.

    I’m taking a blog and column class taught by Gil Thelen this semester. From taking this class, I’ve noticed people in this class and others are either afraid of technology or angry they have to use any real-world skills in their classes. (There was a similar problem when I was in a public affair class and classmates had to dig up public records for assignments.) The nine people in my class are already ahead because we’re learning how to upload pictures, embed YouTube video, post links, and check our posts to make sure everything works before we log off. From what I’ve seen a lot of people are afraid of the technology needed for a simple blog, and I think I might be one of maybe two or three students who is learning even a minimal amount of code.

    Find out what any multimedia classes you’re taking entails.
    I’m also taking a multimedia journalism course. I took it because I wanted to learn how to write scripts and upload content onto a Web site. However, we’re divided into teams, and the Web site operators for the company working with our class uploads all of the content for us. While I’m producing great clips for my portfolio, I’m not gaining the skills I was hoping for. Next semester, I’m probably going to take a graduate class before I graduate; the graduate class will contain a lot of review, but one of the assignments is to build a Web site. I’m very excited about the prospect of learning a little web design.


  2. In addition to your suggestions, I’d add a helping of the following topics: business, advertising and marketing.

    Too many journalists are unable or unwilling to think outside of the editorial wall when it comes to finding ways of using their product (information) in an innovative manner. I think this has ties to the lack of business savvy in most newsrooms.


  3. Patrick. I just checked out your blog, and I think we stand on the same side of the line.

    But I would strongly caution readers against your advice. Journalists should be savvy about marketing themselves and their writing, and they should be aware of the fact that newspapers are in the business of making money, but too much attention to advertising and marketing is poisoning the well we all drink from. Unless I’m understanding you wrong, of course.

    Otherwise, I would offer this advice. DO get to know the world of online and video, and get to know it well. DO NOT forget about basic reporting skills.


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