Job advice: Know a few tricks

Just how much do you need to know about “new media” to get a job in TV news?  It depends on who you ask.  Gary Holmes, news director at Capital News 9 in Albany, NY, says it’s a good thing to be “tech savvy” these days.  “Anything you can do to show your versatility makes you a stronger candidate,” he says.

Speaking at a broadcast journalism seminar at Syracuse University, WIVB-TV news director Joe Schlaerth said anyone applying for a job at his station should be able to “hit the Web running.”  The station’s news operations manager, Nancy Sanders, says that doesn’t mean you have to be proficient at everything, but you should know “a few tricks.”

Scott Atkinson, news director at WWNY-TV in Watertown, NY, takes a different view.  He’s in a “starter market,” [#177, according to Nielsen].  “If you can think I can teach you want you need to know,” Atkinson says. “I don’t care if you have skills when you walk in the door. I think this is hugely oversold. If you want to work for me, be able to write well.”


Put yourself online

Here’s some good advice for new and would-be journalists: launch your own Web site (or blog) and do it now.  The suggestion comes from Larry Atkins, who teaches journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University just outside Philadelphia.  In a piece at the newly revived Online Journalism Review, Atkins argues that building a Web site should be a prerequisite for college graduation.

At the beginning of each semester, I’m surprised at the small number of students who have developed their own professional-style websites. Everyone is on Facebook or MySpace, but only five or so of the approximately 400 students that I’ve taught over the last five years had their own website, which featured their writing samples, articles, or other work. I now emphasize to all my students that developing their own professional website while in college can be an effective marketing tool and a great way to get internships, part-time jobs, full-time jobs, exposure, and extra cash.

Most sites aren’t likely to become as successful as the examples Atkins cites, including that Leah Kauffman helped launch  as a junior at Temple, and the popular NFL draft site,, that Walter Cherepinsky created when he was a senior in high school. But that shouldn’t discourage you from getting in the game.

Think of your blog or Web site as a professional endeavor, not another place to post personal updates (“At store buying more beer”) or potentially embarrassing party pictures.  If you must put those online, save them for your social network pages, just remember that future employers may eventually see them.  Use your site or blog to build an online resume and show off your journalism skills.  “Having your own blog is media career insurance,” says Amy Gahran, editor of Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.

Here’s a quick peek at Gahran’s tips for starting your own blog:

  1. Get a good domain name. Pick something that’s easy to spell and remember, and that preferably ends in .com, .org, or .net.
  2. Map your domain to your site, so every page on your site bears your domain.
  3. Stick with your domain. The longer you blog at the same domain, the higher you will probably rank [on search engines].
  4. Don’t work for anyone who won’t let you keep blogging. Ever. It’s just not worth it.
  5. Join the conversation, and link back to yourself. Inbound links from other sites (even in comments you make) are a key ingredient of Google Juice.
  6. Keep your blog going even if you also blog elsewhere.

Gahran makes one other important point: The sooner you get started, the better, because search engines (especially Google) tend to give sites that have been around a while a higher rank.  So what are you waiting for?

Retraining for multimedia

National Public Radio is reinventing itself as a multimedia news organization, and is retraining its staff for this new mission.  In the latest issue of American Journalism Review, Jennifer Doroh reports that NPR hopes to have 450 staffers up to speed in multimedia by this time next year.  So what are they learning?

Arts and culture reporter Neda Ulaby describes the training as “transformative” and “scary.”

Learning how to write for the Web was probably the single most significant piece of training that I received. When you’re reading a radio script, it doesn’t read the way it sounds. An emphasis that might be clear from someone’s tone of voice just isn’t clear on a radio script.

Compare the online text of one of her stories to the audio version and the differences are obvious.  Here’s how she opens her radio story about product placement:

When executives at television networks talk about product integration, they favor a word more often associated with high-end, environmentally friendly groceries.  SOUNDBITE: “Organically does it work in the story? Organically, does it work for the brand?”

Online, the text version of the story begins entirely differently, and it uses italics for emphasis:

When you see giant Coke cups sitting at the fingertips of American Idol judges, that’s not just product placement. That’s full-fledged product integration — when a brand becomes inextricably identified with the content of a show.

Ulaby tells AJR that her job has also changed in other ways.  She often carries a camera on assignment now, but she doesn’t file photos for every story.  Instead, she’s learned to devote more energy to the online versions of stories with strong visual elements.

I don’t think we’re going to replace professional photographers. But especially in the really splashy stories that we’re going to pay a lot of attention to, it’s just not going to hurt to take some photos that reflect a little bit of knowledge: being able to use light, being able to take close-ups, knowing what we need to focus on in order to enhance the story.

While Ulaby says the time she puts into the Web doesn’t detract from her radio work, others at NPR say it’s hard to do it all.  Art Silverman is a senior producer for “All Things Considered”:

People get praised for creating multimedia. If Miss X did a slide show or if someone else did a written story for the Web, they get a lot of praise. But when you drill down, and ask, ‘How did you fit that in?’ they say, ‘Oh, I did it on my own time and stayed up late at night finishing it.’ In order to get the attention one must tear oneself out of the day and do extra work. Time is often not allotted to do these things.

Silverman believes that to be successful at multimedia, NPR will need to do more than retrain its people.  It will also need to overhaul the way work is assigned.