Thursday, April 06, 2006

Advice to young journalists

Gil Thelen, who is retiring as publisher at the Tampa Trib, imparts some thoughts to Leonard Witt of the Public Journalism Weblog about the future of newspapers and journalism and the skills young journalists will need under the heading Young journalists will need old wire-service skills (nice to see there's yet hope for us former wire rats).

The lede's a bit buried, however, as Thelen takes a walk through journalism's future (We'll see more niche products created for print, more robust and far reaching on-line activities, content for portable electronic devices, and additional video programming. But the main paper will remain with these various porches and bonus rooms added.), the problems at Knight Ridder (Knight Ridder suffered a significant talent drain after Jim Batten's death in 1995. ... Also, the culture of the company changed after Jim's death making it a less open and less forthright organization. ... Personally I believe KR's decision to move away from television was in retrospect a mistake. And the company never received Wall Street recognition for its online success. The end-game then was KR being perceived as a pure print play and a company without a clear vision and plan for future success.), etc., before getting to the punch line:

The new journalist has to have some of the very same qualities of the wire service reporter of old. They need to be able to go short and quick as well as be able to craft the longer narrative. What I tell younger journalists about preparing for success is this: 1.Be able to practice a craft skill such as copy editing, design or reporting with competence. You don't have to be equally competent on multiple platforms but you must be able to perform basic skills such as real time - web posting. 2. Understand and be prepared to acquire new skills and techniques to strengthen your professional tool kit. 3. Be an avid student of changing media and customer needs so you can help evolve the craft.

Along that same line, I've had on my desk for a few weeks some bon mots passed along by Charles Bierbauer, former CNN correspondent now plying his trade as my college's dean. They come from Irma Simpson of the Gannett Foundation at a February (I said a few weeks, didn't I? You know behind is a constant state of being with me) meeting of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication. As usual, the wish list is rather -- how shall we put this -- optimistic? The only thing missing seems to be a reqirement to be able to do windows, too. Take it for what it is, an amalgam that as a result probably overstressses the jack-of-all-trades aspect. Still, some good points:

I asked several recruiters and editors about what 21st century newsrooms need in new employees. Here are their comments:
• Critical thinking skills are an absolute requirement. “We need people who look at things analytically and make intelligent interpretations of what they find.”
• “An entry-level journalist today [must] understand, appreciate, participate in and know how to engage readers and viewers through informational/explanatory graphics.”
• Aid readers in understanding the news, adding value to the mere reporting of events, facts, figures, etc.
• “We need people who are sophisticated enough to see and explain the various levels of gray. People who are able to provide readers with the context they need to understand an issue.”
• Cross trained – able to write, edit, present news and graphics on Web, in print, broadcasting, PDAs, cell phones. Understand how information is presented differently in each medium and be able to do so seamlessly.
• Well-prepared with not only basic writing and reporting skills, but also in libel law, ethics, computer-assisted reporting. “Today’s journalists must be comfortable being interviewed on TV or radio, handling a digital audio recorder to provide sound bits for the website and in some cases they must be able to use a digital camera to provide photos. To perform at the highest level you need a wide range of skill sets. It’s the content that matters, and it doesn’t matter how people get it.”
• Ability to communicate effectively across multiple platforms, not just write a reverse-pyramid story.
• “At every turn, value must be added to make the reading/viewing experience worth the investment of a reader’s/viewer’s TIME.”
• Love of the news, and an enormous interest in current events and history. Must be able to put events into context, and know what’s important.
• “We look for people who double-majored in, say, communications and economics. Minor fields of study are equally important, with double minors a plus. In short, history majors who say they love to write are way back in the pack of candidates.”
• A strong background in news reporting is a must for all levels of journalists these days. “The resumes we get from those saying they want to be columnists or features writers are a dime a dozen.”
• For sports journalists, a background and experience in news is not only a plus, but a must these days.
• There is a growing number of “niche” and non-daily publications operated by newspapers. Students on the publications/magazine track can find opportunities in newspapers that weren’t there until recently.
• Broadcast training: “Producers are worth their weight in gold.” Too many students want to be on-air talent.
• Copy editors and those with a talent for headline writing are also nearly priceless.
• Internships: Preference is given to students who have focused on their interest in journalism and communication, and made an effort to educate themselves accordingly for the field. Strong leadership experience. “Students whose majority of clips are their opinion columns and/or links to their various blogs need not apply.”
• Needed traits almost everyone mentioned: curiosity, flexibility, leadership capability, aggressiveness, sophistication, smarts.

Thanks to: Phil Currie, Sr. VP/News, Gannett Newspapers
Ed Foster-Simeon, Managing Editor/News, USA TODAY
Julie Ward, Deputy Managing Editor/Sports, USA TODAY
Rich Leonard, Director of Recruiting, Gannett Newspapers
Louise Abernathy, VP/Human Resources, Gannett Broadcasting
Richard Curtis/Editor/Photo and Graphics, USA TODAY


At 4/6/06, 6:51 AM, Blogger Jaap said...

"It’s the content that matters, and it doesn’t matter how people get it."
That's a mistake. Not only the style of writing or presenting a story and tone of voice, also the very professional identity of the journalist is partially dependent upon the medium. Journalism isn't independent from its distribution method, it's not an act in itself, leaving a product that only has to be sent its way to a distribution channel of one's choice.

At 4/6/06, 5:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A wide set of skills is essential in today's environment. I changed from a finance/computer science double major to journalism my sophomore year so I believe I have an interesting background. I also plan on attending law school to study media law.
As a journalist, you must have an insatiable thirst for learning. You must know everything about something and something about everything.

There is no doubt that technology has transformed journalism. However news is transmitted, it comes down to one maxim: journalists create content that people want. The general public will always want credible, professional news reporting.

I think every j-school should have Web classes. Journalists should know how to post audio and video on the Web. They should know how to code basic PHP and HTML. Any school that doesn't offer these skills will quickly fall behind the pack.

At 4/10/06, 2:49 PM, Blogger Doug said...

A post about personnel at the National Enquirer has been removed because, frankly, it was not on point (or at best, marginally on point, showing as it did the frustrations in some corners of this business) and involved personal attacks.


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