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Teaching Online Journalism

Skills needed by today’s journalists

Renee Barnes is a radio journalist in Australia; she also teaches online journalism there. In her blog News Frontier, she recently asked readers to rank eight skills, or skill sets, for new journalists:

  1. Evidence of blogging and interaction with a wide range of blogs
  2. An understanding and active use of social media (Twitter, RSS, social bookmarking etc.)
  3. The ability to tell an engaging story using still images and audio (audio slideshow)
  4. Ability to shoot, edit and tell stories using video
  5. Basic ability to create interactive story elements using Adobe Flash
  6. Ability edit audio and produce podcasts
  7. Ability to file from the field breaking news
  8. Ability to moderate online discussion

Actually, Barnes said “online journalists,” but I think that means ALL journalists.

I like the way she broke up the skill sets. I also liked reading the responses she received on her blog. Several people rated 1 and 2 very highly; some thought 7 was paramount; most put 5 in last place, and I would agree with that. After all, she’s asking for “most important” skills — for journalists across the board.

My ranking would be 3, 2, 7, 6, 1, 8, 4, 5.

I think that without the ability to do No. 3 well, the rest just falls by the wayside. Too many journalists have trouble recognizing (and ignoring) a tired old story that no one wants to hear. Too few have a knack (and the true curiosity) to sniff out a unique story that will catch almost anyone’s attention. You can’t do No. 7 properly or well if you have not mastered No. 3. Moreover, No. 6 is vital to both video and slideshows. If you can’t do audio well — gather, edit, format, equalize, and output — you can’t do video either.

One skill I would definitely add, for a new ninth item, is interviewing. This goes hand in glove with 3, 6, and 7. In listening to raw audio of student journalists’ interviews, I hear that they often ask terrible questions, fail to listen attentively, miss many opportunities for follow-up questions, and sometimes flat-out fail to ask the most necessary questions. Interviewing does not come naturally like breathing, and I think we’re neglecting it as a skill to be honed in many of our classes. Yes, we teach about interviewing — but how many journalism educators actually listen to their students conducting a one-on-one interview?

(Thanks to PhilChubb for pointing out Barnes’s post to me.)


Categories: multimedia, reporting, slideshows, storytelling, teaching, training, video


17 Comments

  1. bob stepno says:

    Agreed about interviewing as an addition… and how about “reporting” — news judgment, weighing the importance of a story, civic responsibility, fact-checking and general information-gathering?

    I suspect that was all an understood “given” in Renee’s survey. Otherwise, I’d also add “writing” — not just “storytelling,” but knowing words well enough to craft the microcontent of headlines, captions, subheads, lists, tight summaries and well-focused strong leads. (Some SEO keywords would fit in there, too.)

  2. Hi, Bob. I think the reporting, writing, and probably fact checking were understood — Barnes is focusing on ONLINE journalists, and we might assume that all the normal journalism stuff — ethics too — is still required.

    I just had to squeeze in that plea for interviewing skills because it seems like too many students just don’t have those, and without them, the rest is kind of worthless.

  3. Craig says:

    I’m surprised to see Flash included, but not a “basically ability or understanding of how Web pages and sites are constructed.” I’m pleased (surprised?) to see that you lowered Flash on your version of her list, but I would take it a step further and say “an understanding of what Flash is, how it works and where its use is appropriate” without actually requiring production skills.

  4. I would agree with all but Number 5. And yes, Interviewing techniques are the core for all media, text, audio and video.

    I would suggest that Number 5 read: “The ability to use free or low-cost Web services to create interactive visual narratives (Map mashups, slideshows, Graphics, data visualizations, etc)”

    This focus on Flash is outmoded and outdated.

    Flash is simply not a Web standard and there are far simpler ways for journalists to build effective interactive visuals for daily reporting without ever learning the Flash programming or having to buy a copy of Flash.

    Specialists, of course, will need these tools, your guide books and advanced training to build kiosk-like interactives.

    But those are the tips of the pyramids, built on a much broader base of online journalists using everyday tools like swivel, google maps and flickrslidr, etc.

    I have seen no evidence in my visits to newsroom and j-schools around the world that shows that building Flash packages should be a required reporting skill for every online journalist.

    Better to to show online journos how to solve problems with javascript, XHTML and other standards-based Web tools.

  5. Both Craig and Robb make good points, although I disagree with a possible interpretation of Robb’s idea that Flash is not relevant to online journalism (not exactly what Robb said, but some might interpret it that way). Flash is a specialist’s tool, and a very powerful one, but not a tool that many journalists would need to use. Nevertheless, it remains the best way to create and deploy certain kinds of interactive graphics.

    I think they are correct in saying there is a missing skill point, or numeral, in Barnes’s list. That point is generally one about broad, basic familiarity with the fundamentals of Web production. How is a Web page constructed, how does a database drive a site, how are photos optimized, and how is non-text content embedded? If you don’t understand these fundamentals, you’re borderline illiterate as far as producing online content goes.

    While some might say, “A reporter never needed to know how to run the printing press,” I would counter that required courses 20 years ago taught journalism students how to draw page dummies, crop photos with a proportion wheel, run the waxer and do physical paste-up.

    Within the same list item, or maybe an additional one, would be the ability to create mash-ups and data visualizations, etc., using online tools, many of which are available for free.

  6. I think there are a number of “right” answers in ranking those skills…although I agree with previous commenters that listening and news judgement sometimes get sacrificed for less esoteric skills…say, video editing.

    Which is a major problem in many newsrooms that include both old & new media platforms. There is a gulf between pre-and-post Internet journalists. It prevents each from understanding the importance of the others’ skills. Old school editors have a lot to teach about news judgement. If they’d be less scared of new journalism platforms, or be willing to get a less superficial knowledge of them, I think the collaboration could be helpful for everyone…therefore beneficial to readers/viewers/listeners.

    Bridget Brown
    bridgetbrown.typepad.com/viewfinder

  7. [...] I have been preaching Posted by trhanrahan under Uncategorized No Comments  In a recent post, Mindy McAdams of Teaching Online Journalism discusses the skills graduating journalists must have. [...]

  8. Renee Barnes says:

    I am glad to see the debate my post has generated. The course I am restructuring is an introductory online journalism course – so I have made some assumptions about the ‘standard’ journalism skills such as reporting, writing,fact checking and interviewing. Although I try to reinforce these skills in the criteria for assessments. An understanding of web production is an interesting skill to add. This is something that is generally picked up in my advanced course. It can be hard to teach I find though, as each organisation will have a different CMS. What do you suggest – CSS, XHTML? I find that I have a lot of resistance to these from students – who don’t want to be bogged down in ‘programmer’ skills. My other problem is that I have limited time. We only have 12 week semesters and I only have two online courses.

  9. [...] Skills needed by today’s journalists, Mindy MacAdams [...]

  10. @Renee Barnes – I think these are two separate points: (1) use of a CMS; (2) CSS and HTML. You can choose to include one, both, or none.

    I like to use a free blogging tool (today it’s WordPress.com) to introduce the concepts of a CMS. It’s not going to be exactly the same as any newsroom system, but the students can gain experience with most of the common CMS functions by keeping individual blogs on WordPress.

    In my opinion, CSS must be taught with XHTML. You can’t leave out the CSS even though it drives the kids crazy — it’s an industry standard. But the amount of either one that journalism students need to know is really quite small. I think we should aim more for exposure and basic comprehension — certainly not mastery — in a first online-j course or class.

    I do think that most kids in journalism classes should not be burdened with heavy programming, scripting, or code. But those who want to work as journalists would be well served by a brief introduction to “here is how Web content operates.” Kind of like teaching kids in health class what DNA is.

  11. [...] Here’s a comment from Mindy McAdams, whom I agree with on the topic. A brief excerpt: [...]

  12. [...] [dica de Teaching Online Journalism] [...]

  13. [...] June I posted a ranked list of skills needed by today’s journalists. In reviewing it today, I wondered whether it would be different if instead of saying journalist we [...]

  14. [...] Mindy McAdams: Skills needed by today’s journalists [...]

  15. [...] Mindy McAdams: Skills needed by today’s journalists [...]

  16. [...] discussion topic, but I figured it would be useful to post it anyway. I’ve just come across this June post by Mindy McAdams of Teaching Online Journalism, in which she discusses what skills today’s journalists need. Like what we appear to have [...]

  17. [...] Skills needed by today’s journalists [...]

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