Wanted: “Journalism plus”

Anyone looking for a job in journalism needs to know what employers want.  The short answer is, they want it all.  They’re looking for journalists who can process information and write clearly, and who also have high-level technical skills.  And that’s not all.

Jim Brady, executive editor of Washington Post.com says skills like Flash and video editing are nice to have, but they’re useless if you don’t understand the changing media landscape.  In a conversation with Alfred Hermida (posted on MediaShift), Brady says he expects new hires to understand how people are consuming media.  The first thing he asks in a job interview: assess the changes in media in the last five years and where do you see it going?

Len Brody, CEO of NowPublic.com, told Hermida that journalists not only need to know about those changes, they must be prepared to take advantage of them.  “Your marketing capabilities are going to be as important as your writing capabilities,” he says.  That means understanding search engine optimization, tagging, and how to discover news within social networks, Brody says.

Robert Scoble of Fast Company TV agrees.  “You have to write in a style that gets you into Google, FriendFeed, Twitter,” he says. In today’s world, Scoble says, employers want “journalism plus.”

This weekend, I’ll be at a journalism seminar at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, sponsored by the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters Association.  I’ll keep my ears open for other suggestions.

Tools for online journalists

Every time you turn around, it seems, there are more free tools journalists can use to enhance their work online.  San Jose State grad student Ryan Sholin has posted a useful list of tools for producing polls, maps, audio, video and other multimedia elements.  Among his suggestions that we haven’t already mentioned elsewhere on this site:

  • PollDaddy.com: For free, embeddable and unlimited online polls.
  • Umapper.com: “Great Flash interface for building maps with overlays, data import.”
  • Utterz.com: “Record audio from your mobile phone and feed it live to Twitter or an RSS feed you can take anywhere.”
  • SproutBuilder.com:  Build Flash presentations in a tool that “requires zero programming skills.”

Check out the entire list over at Invisible Inkling.

TV news staffs shrink, but cuts are over?

In a new study from RTNDA/Hofstra University, the job outlook for broadcast journalists seems relatively stable, but not as bright as it has been in some years. 

In a survey of more than 300 stations, almost three-quarters have reported either no staff cuts or staff increases. Unfilled positions were counted as staff reductions, and news directors were quick to point out that most of those TV news staff reductions happened through attrition, or by hiring freezes, rather than letting people go. 

Just 22.1% of stations reported staff increases for 2008, and that number is usually about 10% higher, according to the report.

And what about the rest of the year?

While nearly three-quarters of the news directors expect no change in staff size, almost twice as many expect to add people as cut them. The industry-wide projection would be a net increase in TV newspeople of 151 through the remainder of the year. That would result in a 2008 net loss of 209 jobs.

The report also provides more detail on what market sizes were hit hardest and in what part of the country, as well as information on local news programming expansion or reduction plans for the coming year. 

New TV-newspaper partnership

It’s been awhile since we’ve heard news of a network-affiliated television station creating a new partnership with a major daily newspaper, but the Baltimore Sun and CBS-affiliate WJZ-TV in Baltimore are now multimedia partners.

Editor & Publisher reports that the organizations will share story leads and partner on projects, but promotional opportunities and advertising revenue are a big part of the deal.

WJZ will also provide news video to Balimoresun.com. WJZ’s sales team will be responsible for selling advertising inventory within WJZ videos running on Baltimoresun.com.

The paper will promote some WJZ stories and the Sun will get daily promotion for some of its stories in the station’s newscasts.

This type of partnership between news organizations with different corporate owners was common a few years ago, but many have since dissolved.  It would be interesting to find out what makes these partnerships work when they do and why they so often fall apart.

The future of journalism

We hear plenty of doom and gloom about journalism these days – especially on the print side.  But Bob Guccione, Jr. is more hopeful, and in his Huffington Post article, he offers four predictions for the future of journalism:

1) Within two years, a major city daily will transform itself into a free paper. Home delivery will still require a paid subscription. The Sunday paper will continue to be sold and will morph into a hybrid of the best of a pleasurable Sunday-paper reading experience and a week-long events resource.

2) A cable channel will pass one or more of the Big Four broadcast networks in total viewership, chiefly because it makes better programs.

3) Google will lose significant market share, because viable competitors will create as good or better search engines and incentivize people to use them.

4) The Internet will not consume print, because it’s not strong enough, it’s not better, and it’s too busy consuming itself.

Guccione goes on to say that newspaper executives have to quit complaining and start innovating.  That may not be new, but he says it so eloquently.

The future of media will boil down to, and pivot on the axis of, one thing: imagination — how creative we are in exploiting technology and, equally important, with content. The future will not be a war between new media and traditional media, but between obsolescence and vision. In that sense, it will be far more apocalyptic and transformative than just a bunch of old-line companies going away.

As for his predictions, they seem right on target to me.

Vlogging behind the scenes

What’s it like to cover a political convention for a local TV audience?  Steve Sweitzer, news operations manager at WISH-TV in Indianapolis, took a little time between live shots and feeds at this summer’s conventions to lift the curtain a little, posting a series of vlogs on his station’s Web site.

Who knew that in addition to coping with layers of security at the Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., you also had to avoid running afoul of the “wireless police“? Who knew that at the Democratic convention in Denver, not even CBS’s “magic bus” could cut through the chaos, or improve the working conditions?

Sweitzer says he’s not proud of the technical quality of the videos, but they weren’t that hard to produce:

They were shot with a Flip Video camera and edited in iMovie (often while riding in cabs) and then e-mailed back to the station. I just used the mic in my MacBook to record the narration. We were too busy to actually write a script so I’d cut together some sequences and then just talk about them while the video played.

We’ve long encouraged stations to produce “Web extra” videos to supplement their online offerings.  These “behind the scenes” videos from WISH-TV give users more than they can get from TV–and that’s a good thing.  Are they perfect?  Not hardly.  But remember, the perfect is the enemy of the good.  Don’t wait for the “Goldilocks zone” (where everything is “just right”).  Sometimes “good enough” really IS good enough.

Skills a multimedia journalist needs

The Online News Association Job Fair in Washington, DC seemed like a great place to do some investigating of the multimedia job market – and it was.  Ironically, the recruiters came from USA Today, Gannett, New York Times, Associated Press, Tribune Media Services, McClatchy and the Washington Post among others  Ironic because on the same day these companies were looking for multimedia journalists, several were in the midst of laying off hundreds of people.

My colleague, Kristine Trever, attended the fair and talked with a half dozen reps from these companies.  She came up with a list of top skills for the multimedia journalist:

  • Excellent writing skills (emphasized by everyone)
  • Proficiency in multimedia platforms – i.e. video & audio
  • Proficiency in multimedia tools – Flash, InDesign, Photoshop, Dreamweaver

And Trever said they all talked about “flexibility, confidence, adaptability and versatility – as in, at a moment’s notice, a print person might be on camera.”

Trever says they also stressed “real world experience” and the importance of being bi- or multi-lingual.

Student journalists are lucky – they’re perfectly positioned to take classes and internships that will help them develop these skills.  Veteran journalists can do it, too – and perhaps adapt even more easily.  Excellent writing skills and experience are a lot harder to develop than basic software and technical expertise, but that “flexibility, confidence, adaptability and versatility” is what will make the difference for them.

Old thinking at journalism school

Alana Taylor, a junior at NYU, has publicly slammed the J-school there for “old thinking.”  This fall, she’s taking what she terms one of the few courses NYU offers undergrads that focuses on new media and she’s sorely disappointed.  The course seems to be more about young news consumers than new media:

I was hoping that NYU would offer more classes where I could understand the importance of digital media, what it means, how to adapt to the new way of reporting, and learn from a professor who understands not only where the Internet is, but where it’s going.

Writing at MediaShift, Taylor admits the course she’s taking, “Reporting Gen Y (a.k.a. Quarterlifers),” doesn’t claim to be a new media class.  But she was surprised to find she was the only student in the room who has a blog.  And she’s irked that the professor insists that everyone bring the hard copy of the New York Times to class every week.

I hoped that perhaps my teacher would be open to the idea of investigating other sources of news from the Internet and discussing how they are reliable or not. I hoped that she wouldn’t refer to podcasts as “being a pain to download” and that being aware of and involved in the digital era wasn’t just a “generational” thing.

I am convinced that I am taking the only old-but-new-but-still-old media class in the country. At this point I may not learn too much I don’t already know about my generation and where it’s taking journalism. But one thing’s for sure — I’m certainly going to gain some insight into what exactly they mean by generation gap.

From what I’ve heard from students and faculty at other schools, Taylor is wrong about at least one thing.  There are still plenty of “old-but-new-but-still-old-media” classes being offered on college campuses across the country.  True?  And what’s it going to take to change that?

Online award winners

The judges have spoken, and the Online News Association has named its 2008 award winners.  As my colleague Deb Wenger pointed out in an earlier post, there were few broadcast finalists. In the end, only one of them won.  CNN.com took the award for general excellence (large site).  The judges called it “one of the more dynamic destinations out there. One that takes user content seriously and integrates it into the whole, opening a new era of networked content.” One judge predicted “everyone will copy it.”‘

Newspapers swept most of the other awards, including a new one this year for best online video presentation.  That award went to the Oregonian for its feature “Living to the End.”

Special congratulations to the two student journalism winners: UNC-Chapel Hill & Universidad de los Andes for South of Here, and Taylor Hayden of Western Kentucky University for Closer to Home: A Daughter Becomes Caregiver.  Judges said the UNC entry had “excellent journalism, stunning photography, creative navigation, elegant structure, refreshing and enlightening content, all superbly executed technically.”  Hayden drew praise for “well-done video, still imagery within and a spare design that works well for the project.”

Speaking Spanish gives a leg up

Josh Hinkle, a reporter at KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, says his ability to speak Spanish got him a plum assignment to cover a local story with national implications.

Last May, federal, state and local agents swarmed Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville, Iowa, and arrested almost 400 immigrants for being in the U.S. illegally. The next day, Hinkle says his station sent him out on the story because he was the only reporter there who spoke Spanish.

Hinkle says that helped him get stories other reporters couldn’t.  Once he started speaking to people in Spanish, he says, “the floodgates kind of opened.”  Thanks to Wartburg College student Andrew Nostvick for writing about Hinkle’s experience in CyberWave, the INBA newsletter.  Check it out to see a short video interview with Hinkle, a recent graduate of Oklahoma State University.