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.

How would you create an online community at SJSU?

Daniel Sato, online editor of the Spartan Daily student newspaper at San Jose State University, is trying to come up with a way to let readers vote their own stories up the charts, to tackle the twin problems of there being little sense of community at SJSU (online OR off, in my opinion) and organizations constantly complaining that the school paper ignores them.

He’s talking about using Pligg to build a site where clubs and teams can essentially submit links to their own stories, and then the readers can vote on them as they please, a la Digg.

Will it work?

I’m skeptical, but then again, the first time Daniel pointed me to Digg, I wrote the site off as a bunch of losers who didn’t know anything about the stories they were voting on.

What do you think? Would you give your readers a “Submit This” button and then let them vote stories up and down a user-generated-content page?

Go tell Daniel.

Ten WordPress plugins that make this look easy

In honor of Daniel’s Blogger break-up, here are 10 WordPress plugins I use and recommend:

  • Ultimate Tag Warrior: Does a lot more than build that ugly/hot/buzzwordy tag cloud over on the right, it gives search engines a leg up on knowing what you’re writing about, which makes it easier for people to find you. Then, once they’re at your site, it gives them lots of handy links to read what interests them.
  • Tiger Style Administration: Makes your Admin panel look a lot more Mac-ish, and more importantly, it’s just plain nicer to look at than the default WordPress backend.
  • BA Stats: Simple stats on page hits, referrers, IP addresses, browsers used by your readers, etc. Bug Owen Winkler to put the plugin back up for download, though, because the project appears to have gone dormant.
  • Get Recent Comments: It gets recent comments. Oh, and puts them where you want them, like in your sidebar, for example. Very configurable.
  • Fuzzy Recent Posts: Like #4, but with your latest posts.
  • Angsuman’s Referrer Bouncer, Trackback Validator, Spam Karma 2, Bad Behavior: It’s hard to tell which of these is doing the lion’s share of the work, but I rarely ever have to see any comment or trackback spam on my blog. Obvious honorable mention to Akismet. I don’t know how this stuff works, but it gets the job done.
  • Random Quotes: I love this. It’s designed to display a random quote from a list you make in a handy admin-panel interface, but in theory, I think it could be used to display random images or other hunks of code. I use it for the different ‘About’ blurbs you see on the top right corner of this site.

Yeah, I count 11, too. I’m not a math major.

Add the 12th by leaving a comment and telling everyone the one WordPress plugin you don’t leave home without.

Adapt. Improvise. Overcome.

Daniel got roped into a bullshit internship program in Nepal, but instead of turning back, he just ditched said bullshitters and improvised himself some work.

In Kathmandu.

It does not appear to have been an easy or pleasant experience, but now he’s shooting for an NGO and making the best of his time there.


Follow Daniel’s photography at Flickr. I like this one.