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.
All the dead grass that surrounds me is a reminder of the dead leaves of fall.
I’ve got a heavy load of school work, real work and newspaper work coming my way when those leaves start falling. Just when the fallen extremities begin to decay, so will my motivation.
At least, that’s how it usually goes.
Not this year. It’s the summer’s version of the New Year’s Resolution, I know, but I am bound to change my complacent habits this fall. I have to.
I’ve put a lot of responsibility on my own shoulders this year, and I’ve got a lot to learn.
I thought I would share with you some of the things I hope to learn about this fall, and give you some kind of expectations on what to anticipate what I’ll be blogging about:
SEO – I thought I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for the Web Director position. After speaking with the Oklahoman’s SEO guys, I realized I only knew the EXTREME basics. I have a tendency to write about things I just learn, so expect many a posts about SEO tips and tricks.
Content Management – I’ll be installing and tweaking a new theme for the Kentucky Kernel Website, kykernel.com, and I know WordPress and I are going to have our bouts together this year.
Opinion writing – I’m taking a column writing class in the fall, and I expect to be conflicted often in that class with journalism vs. opinion. That will probably make me look into the use of social media for opinion writing as opposed to journalism (serious hint hint).
Monetization – I’m bound to become a much better blogger this year, as I decide on ways for our site to gain readership and $$$$$$ (Money, spelled in dollar signs).
What the trick will be for me is relating all this to storytelling. That, my readers, will probably come to extreme surprises to you.
Wish me luck. But more importantly, happy reading!