What sort of things should an aspiring journalist be thinking about?

Back in November of 2004, I posted a long-winded blog about my thoughts on the state of journalism education.

One of my main points in that post was that some of the most close-minded journalists I’d ever met were the young reporters straight out of J-School, and that I thought the blame for that should be shouldered by the programs that instilled that mindset.

Our industry has gone through a lot since I wrote that post, but I’m sad to say I still see much of that same near-disdain-for-new-media attitude in far too many of the younger reporters in our newspaper newsrooms. In fact, if we want to do something cool on one of our sites, we’re much more likely to get help from either a mid-career journalist or a senior reporter.

And I’m not alone in seeing this. Howard Owens notes that he sees the same thing.

(Important sidenote: I’m not saying there aren’t some really talented, new-media focused recent J-School grads out there. Here at Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, we have Cara McCoy, who just graduated from Ohio University. Cara is one of the sharpest young journalists I’ve ever met. And at the Naples Daily News, Ira Spitzer and Tovin Lapan (both recent grads from Berkeley), and Denise Spidle and Ellyn Angelotti (both from the University of Kansas) are doing some amazing things that will change your thoughts about what a local newspaper can be.)

Anyway, back to my original point …

So, earlier this month when I saw a post from Bryan Murley to the Poynter listserv asking for “advice for aspiring journalists,” I knew I was going to try to send something to him. Bryan is one of the main people behind “Innovation in College Media,” a blog about new media and college media organizations.

Here is what I sent Bryan:


Know how to write. Know how to tell a story. Know how to conduct an interview. Know how to research your ass off.

Traditional journalism skills will *never* go out of vogue. I don’t care what the latest gizmo is, the foundation that everything will be built upon are those core journalism skills.

But also understand that things are changing rapidly in our industry. Look at this job posting for a Scripps newspaper in Florida and ask yourself if you are qualified for this job:

“We’re looking for an energetic, talented reporter who thrives on competition to work in a fast-growing community in South Florida for a 50,000-circulation daily consistently judged one of the state’s best newspapers. The successful applicant will be able to beat the competition online as well as in print and will embrace the opportunities and challenges inherent in our award-winning, constantly evolving Web site. A high tolerance for hurricanes probably would be a plus.”

Skillset is important. But mindset is most important.

When you combine strong traditional journalism skills with a great mindset, you’ve got a journalist who’s going to be fine regardless of what new things or technologies come our way.

Work with your news organization’s new media editors to post stories early. Know when a story could benefit from an audio interview, such as when a source has an interesting speaking style, is emotional, etc… Know when a story could benefit from extra photos, a steerable 360-degree panoramic photo to give your audience a better visual understanding of the story, or even a video clip.

Would it be interesting to have a live online chat with one or more of the sources in a story? Would a searchable database of public records help your readers better understand your story? Would an online forum or an interactive poll question on your newspaper’s site really add to the public dialogue that goes along with your story?

Be willing to learn and do new things.

That doesn’t mean that you need to learn how to edit video or audio, or know how to build something in Flash, or understand how to work with HTML (though none of those things would be bad to know). It just means you need to be open-minded about learning to do things you’ve never done before. I just can’t emphasize how important mindset will be in the “new” newsroom.

Newsrooms are getting smaller. My gut tells me that the journalists who are going to survive all of this recent goofiness will be the ones who are committed to the journalism, not the medium.

And my biggest advice would be to have at least one portfolio piece that shows you understand the importance of the things I’ve listed above. If you want to impress an editor who is hiring, show him/her that you aren’t just willing to do these sorts of things, but that you can’t wait to do these sorts of things.

All things being equal, who do you think gets the job: the person who hands over a bunch of photocopied newspaper clips, or someone who also sends a link to a well-done multimedia project?

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Dad. Journalist. Nerd. Music lover. Baseball fan. Puckhead.

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