5 things to tell the students

How much time did you spend online yesterday and today? (Pause.) Compare that with how much time you spent reading a newspaper or a magazine.

Last night I spoke to about 40 journalism students at a meeting of the student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. My mission: To alert them to the role of online in their future career. (Your answer to the two questions might differ from theirs, but it was obvious from their facial expressions that the question makes sense to them.)

Why would you think you will have a career writing — only writing — for a newspaper, when you know what the habits of your peers are?

I’m not saying you won’t work for a newspaper, but the current students are telling us that they hear this at the campus journalism job fairs: What are your online skills? What is your URL? Where are your links?

The magazine people are in the same boat — the students just don’t realize it yet!

So here’s what I told them:

  1. You don’t have to be a programmer. But you need to have more than one skill. Another way to say that is, You need to have more than only print skills.
  2. If you have not taken any online skills courses at all, and spring is your final semester, and the intro online course conflicts with one of your required courses that you waited until now to take — sign up for the online course, and delay your graduation. Do you want to graduate? Or do you want a job?
  3. You can go home tonight and learn to make a Web page. For heaven’s sake, there are only 10 tags to learn. Learn HTML and CSS here. Free.
  4. You should not even be thinking about Flash if you never made a Soundslides. Download Soundslides here. Free demo version. See what kind of story you can tell.
  5. Every journalist can learn to gather and edit audio for online. Start here. You probably already have a digital recorder. Buy an external microphone. Download Audacity. Get busy.

This collection of tools, tutorials and tips will also come in handy: Journalists’ Toolkit.

Look at great online journalism work — here and here. Look often. Recognize the growing importance of video (like this one) in the newspaper newsrooms. Do you know how to shoot video? Do you know how to edit video? Realize that one person does NOT need to possess EVERY skill — look at the credits (top right) on this package from the Palm Beach (Fla.) Post.

Update (11:25 p.m.): See what a bunch of newspaper editors say about journalism jobs and what new hires need to know.

13 Comments on “5 things to tell the students

  1. Amen, Mindy. Perfect premise. We’re lucky enough to still be hiring and almost every job we’ve hired for lately has included a heavy emphasis on digital skills.

  2. I do agree with the basic ideas, but not with point 2.
    I would rather say: “2. Do not delay your graduation to take one or two more courses, even if this course is “introduction to online journalism”. Rather, enroll on the course you need to graduate and do an online course on online journalism, at the same time, or do it presentially the day after you graduate. Why? Because that will be the first of many, many courses you will be taking AFTER you graduate, if you want to get and KEEP a job. There is not ‘graduation’, in a strict sense, any longer, but just ‘continuous qualification’.
    Um grande abraço,

    marcos palacios
    Universidade Federal da Bahia

  3. Marcos, I agree that they will need to keep on learning, learning, learning after graduation!

  4. What do you suggest if you’re 32 years old? You’re close to being a veteran (10 years in the industry) but you’ve made your career with the “old media” skills. What do you suggest we learn?

  5. Hi, Karen. For veterans such as you, I suggest learning something new that advances your news organization’s online presence and clout. For example, audio. Anyone can learn to gather and edit audio.

    Spend a day on the online desk. Find out what they’re doing, hour by hour. Find out how you can make their job easier and your Web site better.

    Demand direct access to the site stats for your own stories. Is anyone reading your stuff? If not — uh-oh! Why not?

    Start a blog about your beat. Learn to interact with your readers. Learn how to listen to them. You’ll be surprised at what you will find out!

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  9. Hey, Mindy –

    Thanks for putting all this out there. I never went to J-school; have worked at an Atlanta weekly for, oh, six months. Very excited about doing online work. Unfortunate that I’m not getting any experience through work, but I do have free time afterwards for learning some basic HTML, going through your book on Flash + Journalism, and so on. Make myself marketable to the next job at least. Before I tumbled to all this I had the sneaking suspicion they were preparing me for a perfect career in a newspaper, in the year 1988. World’s moved on; thanks for helping a relative latecomer like me catch up. (Says the 25-year-old.)

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