Self editing is the key

I’ve realized since I started my internship this summer that the priorities of journalism schools may be a little off in what they deem important in today’s information market.

Lets get to it.

Writing is still the most important skill for a print journalist

Unless every journalism student in the country is destined to work at a small, local newspaper all their lives, learning photo and video is still secondary to possessing true writing ability. In medium market newspapers like the Oklahoman, writers don’t shoot photos. Photographers don’t write stories (except only once, but he wanted to). They are still institutionalized to separate the tasks of writing copy and producing visuals.

My journalism school may be sticking to that platform more than others, and now I think I finally get why. Writers still need to focus on providing clear and comprehensive copy. They still need to develop editing skills, and be great self-editors. Learning Soundslides, or correct audio mixing techniques or SEO is important, but will always be complementary skills to solid writing.

If anything has really changed in the newsroom I occupy this summer, it’s that they have had layoffs, but little conversion of desks. Specialists are still better than jack-of-all-trades. Bad news for people like me who have bet on the need for one-man bands.

Some skills that students journalists shouldn’t forget about in the digital age

  • Producing clean copy: In a recommendation letter I received from a senior staff writer this summer, she only noted one particular skill that I possessed; turning in clean copy. Now, I don’t know how true that may be, but it points out that reporters and editors are still primarily looking for clean writers. Not active bloggers or tweeters. Those are crucial skills too, but the newsroom veterans and copy editors don’t want to be spending hours editing your articles because you were distracted with socializing and blogging.
  • Being People People: No matter how lost in indirect communication we may sink our personal lives, reporters still have to knock on doors and meet people in person. No one teaches those skills in journalism school, but student journalists now may forget that is in the job description. Having good conversational skills, earning rapport with your sources and gaining access were all skills a professor last semester impressed upon me. Good words to live by.
  • Doing your research: Nothing hurts worse than tweeting and blogging about your next interview with your next great source, but if you don’t focus and get the research done, you won’t be producing all the great pieces your audience will be expecting.

Another disclaimer here: I’m not an expert. I just have a tendency to write about things that strike me and that I learn along my path to becoming a professional journalist.

With that, I think these are some truly fundamental skills that might get pushed to the side by eager journos ready to hit the streets with all their multimedia gear in place and turn on their eight different social media tools to pump out their content.