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.
Deadlines are a haunting and exhilarating piece to a journalist’s life. But many times, deadlines are longer than you need.
Say you are writing a profile on a musician with no time value. You have all week and it’s just Monday. Interview is on Tuesday morning. Then what?
I’ve been dealing with long deadlines lately, and been thinking about how I can be productive while waiting on a call back, or between interviews, besides the traditional fact-checking and organizing of my notes.
Here are a few ideas I have on how to increase productivity in your downtime:
1. Do a daily – Sometimes there are smaller pieces inside your much bigger piece that could stand by itself as a short daily. For example, an event preview, or an off-topic issue inside your bigger story. A lot of these could make a short daily story, or even a sidebar for your main project.
2. Make it multimedia – Get out that camera and shoot a video, and ask your subject to do an on-camera interview. Anything to add pizzazz or pop to your page is a good thing.
3. Pursue a project – Use that half hour between your interviews to look into your next big hit.
4. Learn a trade – If you don’t know how to use Final Cut, or InDesign, now is your chance. Lots of easy, quick tutorials can help you master the basics and get some valuable skills.
The headline says it all.
I thought we had all learned our lessons about “shoveling” our content from one medium to another without tweaking it, even print-to-online stories. But no.
As much as I love NPR, they are the culprits for inciting enough irritation to write this post.
I clicked on a story. They offered a soundbite from the radio of a written story. Naturally, I clicked on the radio version, and I thought I would skim the story at the same time. Easy enough.
No. The story was ver batim the same story the radio reporter said. It was like looking at a transcript.
Why this is so frustrating is because of a few reasons. This applies in general to all news organizations, by the way:
1. It wasted my time: I would love to invest my time into reading and listening, but only if there was something unique to experience from each format. I don’t want to waste my time watching a video, when I know what happens (who does).
2. It’s lazy: Don’t put up duplicate stories on your website just because they are different formats. Each medium has it’s advantages to bring to a story. If the reporter wasn’t hustling enough to get info for a print story, or do a quality video, then he/she shouldn’t do it.
3. It’s wasteful: Using storytelling formats is a great thing, if you use them correctly. We have all of them for specific reasons. It’s a shame to see potential for something great to be tossed out because of “shoveling” stories.
Stories are like languages, you can’t get by using cheapo online translators to converse with someone. You need to be somewhat fluent, understand dialects and regional differences. Videos, audio bites and print stories all have their own flows, and transitional elements. I would expect a major broadcasting network like NPR to know this.
Lesson: Don’t duplicate your story. Expand your story with each format you introduce. If you do, you certainly won’t regret it.
If you want to see an example of a story that does it right, check out Denver Post’s American Soldier feature. They intertwine all their formats well and integrate each with great web design.