A fresh look at reporting skills

In 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 said reporter.

Say you want to hire a reporter — for a Web-only organization, a magazine, a newspaper, a TV or documentary outfit. Or for all of the above! Of course you want the person to have some experience, some evidence that he or she can do the job. Of course you need the person to be able to write grammatically, correctly, fluently.

What else?

Here’s an unranked list to get us rolling:

  • Conduct an interview
  • Capture the interview as clean digital audio
  • Gather background material for a story
  • Cover a live event
  • Narrate a story for video
  • Script a video package

What else?

28 Comments on “A fresh look at reporting skills

  1. Reporters need to be adept users of social media and I don’t just mean having accounts on various platforms, but actually knowing how to integrate all those efforts to build a following, find work, etc.

  2. To “capture the interview as clean audio” add “capture as video” simultaneously.

    Record the audio, video, and web-quality stills on the one device.

    You don’t have to use all mediums, but take them as default every time and cover all your bases.

  3. To listen to and react to what is said when interviewing someone. Don’t be prescriptive….think on your feet! Have the confidence to challenge & take responsibility for your work!

  4. Proofread and copy edit no matter what industry you work in.

  5. @Dave Earley – Do you think EVERY interview should be captured as video? If not every one, then what are the criteria? When should an interview be video’d?

  6. Ideas, ideas, ideas… Ideas for stories that no-one else has, and ideas of how to create, cover, package and promote them better than your rivals.

    Effective interpersonal skills (including listening), whether for interviewing, dealing with colleagues, or pitching stories.

    Confidence — not arrogance.

  7. Shouldn’t the person demonstrate that he or she can capture the “truth” of the story? Isn’t that what journalists do?

    The tried and true 5Ws and 1H – who, what, when, where, why, how – go a long way toward getting at the truth of any story.

    If I were hiring, I’d want to know that the person can accurately identify the 5Ws and 1H.

  8. Mindy, you asked on Twitter “Does every reporter need to know how to script for video?”

    To which I replied, “I found when I started writing for radio that it actually improved my writing for print and the web.”

    I started off as a print only reporter, but within the first five years of my career (1994-1999), I had worked for a regional newspaper, a local television station, a regional news website and then an international broadcaster. Writing for radio forced me to be more succinct than print and also to think about how the writing sounded. That really sharpened my print writing, and it made me much better at writing for the web. It’s also made me appreciate how different writing is required for the different platforms.

  9. A couple ideas:

    – Find and curate links to other coverage of the story you’re working on.
    – Explain your reporting process
    – Write the smallest possible version of a breaking news story, covering what’s known and unknown, and add to the story as more becomes known

    These are all pretty online-ist, looking it over, but I think they’re good for any reporting process.

  10. Shouldn’t a journalist be able to work quickly, under (rolling) deadline?

    Also, with all this talk of different tools (video, audio, etc.) isn’t it a skill to recognize the right tool for the job, i.e., knowing when to do a video vs. an audio slideshow?

    Finally, journalists are called on to be a quick study on whatever they’re writing about. I’d say being a student of new technology and storytelling methods is key too.

  11. Great list. Thanks for doing this, Mindy.

    1) Be platform agnostic: Be able to tell stories across multiple platforms and recognize what makes a good story for each.

    2) Law and ethics.

    3) Multimedia training.

    4) Preparing for and conducting an interview for print, broadcast, etc.

    5) Cover general topics and a beat.

    6) Basic copy editing skills (I still teach it, it’s becoming a lost art). InDesign a must.

    7) How to develop a story idea and pitch it to an editor.

    8) Basic content management system, basic HTML (links, code, etc.) Even print journalists are asked to blog and use a content management system. Teach them the basics now so they can adapt later.

    I’ll chip in more later.

    Thanks for doing this! MR

  12. @Chris Amico – “Explain your reporting process”: Good one! I really like that!

    If I said that during a job interview, and the interviewee hemmed and hawed and couldn’t give a succinct, clear answer, I’d know not to hire that one!

  13. @Justin Ellis – Yes, I’d love to see evidence that the person can work quickly AND accurately.

    Being able to identify the best tool(s) for reporting a particular story: Also quite good. I’m often reminded of a colleague’s story about some students who came back from an interview with a tattoo artist with audio and no pictures. Doh!

  14. @Mike Reilley – Aw, come on … “InDesign a must.” For a REPORTER??

    Comfortable using at least one CMS, though — that IS a must.

  15. Be comfortable finding and analysing data e.g. from Freedom of Information requests

    Be skilled at using a mobile phone to take pictures, use social media on the go

    Build up and maintain a good contacts book/database

    Understands the need for good images with a story

    Bit of bravado but polite, a good operator

    Interested in different subjects. Comfortable cranking out 250 words on a breaking story for the web and writing an in-depth 1,500 word news feature with backgrounders.

  16. And I still think shorthand. I had audio fail me recently, but I had my notebook and pen. Got down everything in my rudimentary 80wpm (studying for 100wpm at the moment). Shorthand is inobtrustive and with a lot of newsgathering now done over the phone it’s a vital skill.

  17. -Use web design tools and CMS to post to the internet.

    -Be comfortable reporting a story in photos, audio, video and text.

    -Be capable in creation tools for photos, audio, video and text.

  18. @Ed Walker – I know British journalists are required to know shorthand, but I would be surprised if there are any U.S. journalists who know it.

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  20. Yes, InDesign a must for a “reporter.” Too many media outlets need journalists who can multi-task and do layout. And InDesign is used for layout. The days of being “just a reporter” are gone. You have to multi-task. I learned layout as an undergrad 25 years ago and was glad I did. I wound up working the copy desk during my offseasons as an LA Times reporter. Smaller pubs need jacks and jills of all trades. InDesign and basic copy editing skills are a must. My list is solid.

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  23. Open-minded curiosity that creates on the fly and makes connections between ideas. Without it, your story never breathes.

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