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?

A few ways to teach the Pro side of Pro-Am Journalism to J-School students

Jay Rosen was just on stage talking about NewAssignment.net (see his lessons learned post at PressThink), and one thing that comes up is training on both the Pro and the Amateur side to smooth the process of writing/editing stories and gathering/parsing data.

So how can J-School students who need to learn these new skills (this would be the Interactivity part of the trinity) pick them up in school?

A few ideas:

  • Create Facebook and MySpace identities for your student media outlet and then manage/promote them.  Start discussions about campus news and find the online communities that are already in your neighborhoods, then tie into them.
  • Create a Ning social network for a niche at your school:  Club sports not getting enough coverage in your paper?  Ning ’em.
  • Find a tool to gather data from your campus community.  It can be simple as a Google Map or as complicated as a database project, but take a common problem or question on your campus (parking, for example) and start asking your readers to contribute answers to those questions.

Does anyone have examples of student media taking these steps? (I know you do…)

And maybe more important, is this something you teach in a class, or are your students pretty much left to figure this out on their own?