Nobody puts the web in a corner: new skills for students in a digital age

What’s the best way to tell this story?

It’s a question that all Journalists 2.0 should be asking themselves these days—according to Jim Sheppard, the day editor at the Globe and Mail.

Sheppard stopped by Carleton University the other week to share his wisdom with students and faculty about the shift in newsrooms towards online content and multimedia.

The catalyst for the visit: the web and print operations at the Globe are now integrated. That’s right, the web guys are one with the print guys (and gals), and their harmony is a sign that this long-term “strategic shift”, as Sheppard called it, is the future of newsrooms.

And we students should learn about it, train for it, and if we know what’s good for us, embrace it.

If Sheppard, the man who developed the site and helps run the show at the most prestigious newspaper in Canada, can’t get it through your head that times are a changin’, then you better start swimming—or you’ll sink like a stone.

Here’s some tips for j-schoolers who are about to enter an exciting, if daunting, time in journalism.

1.    The web is your friend.

Today, some stories are written exclusively for the web, and they’re treated with as much respect as print copy—whichever is the best way to tell a story. It’s time to stop thinking of online journalism as newspaper’s vapid cousin.

2.    Learn a variety of skills but…

As Mary McGuire has pointed out on her blog, the more skills in online journalism you have, the better. If your school offers radio, TV, and online courses, take them, and learn how to incorporate them into print work. Even if you want to be a distinctly print journo—oh, the humanity!—you need these skills. Period.

You can also learn them on your own: get Adobe Audition, Final Cut Pro, and Soundslides, take a few hours, and make yourself infinitely more marketable.

3. …Be a good journalist

You can learn to edit video until the cows come home, but you still have to have the basic skills down pat. Ideally, you will be superior at both.

4.    The character of the newspaper is changing, and so will your stories.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it…except you probably already have. While newspapers used to be the hot-of-the-press medium for getting news, they’re just not anymore. That’s what the web is for. At the Globe, this means next-day stories will be more feature-y, less news-y, than in the past.

“What you want for tomorrow’s newspaper is the ‘why?’ Who, what, where, when, you get on the breaking news edition”- Jim Sheppard
5.    Get with the program—and change it!

No one can force you to learn and do multimedia for the paper. But everybody now works for both, and if you haven’t got the skills or the attitude, there’s guaranteed to be someone out there who does.

The fact that journalism is at a crossroads may work to your advantage. Newspapers are trying new things, and they need fresh ideas from young people about how to step up their game and survive. Bring your j-school training to the table and help these guys out. No one knows what the future holds—but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of it.