Marissa Nelson, senior editor, digital news at thestar.com tells young journalists what skills newsroom managers are looking for and how to exploit the digital savvy you already have.
When I left Ryerson in 2001, I set my sights on a career as a newspaper reporter.
I had devoted myself to print but learned much else. I learned how to shoot and edit video and to collect and produce audio. I packed those skills away only to dust them off six years later when I made the transition to digital journalism.
Being a generalist has always been key for young journalists but today the skill set is different. Young journalists now have to know how to take photos, write, shoot and edit multimedia and work with content management systems. Even if you don’t need all of those skills right away, chances are, you’ll need many of them down the road.
No matter your destination, online journalism will be part of your life. Every television station, radio network and newspaper has a website. And your work will end up there. Digital skills are the skills most newsrooms are looking for.
Young journalists need to be web literate, to understand what works online and what doesn’t. You don’t need to be a programmer, but you should have a basic understanding of html. You should be able to flip to the html tab of any of the popular blogging softwares and tweak things like the size a YouTube video.
The good news is young journalists have a leg up – they’re digital natives. They’’e only known a world with the Internet, probably were the first group on Facebook.
But they must exploit that savvy.
The biggest piece of advice I can give is for young journalists to participate in the digital world, not just watch it.
They should be mass consumers of online journalism. Here’s a sample of the sites I go to every day, other than thestar.com:
Globeandmail.com, cbcnews.ca, 680news.com, ctv.ca, Canada.com, citynews.com, nationalpost.com, guardian.co.uk, nytimes.com, usatoday.com, washingtonpost.com, cnn.com, bbc.co.uk, timesonline.co.uk, thedailybeast.com, huffingtonpost.com, popurls.com, torontoist.com, spacing.ca and blogto.com.
I follow more than 25 blogs on my RSS reader which I check every day.
And, of course, I’m on Twitter every day.
Twitter is the darling of the online world right now. I hear probably once a week that Twitter is on the way out – always from people who are not users.
Even if Twitter is just a fad (which I don’t believe) you should be on it. You should be using it. You should be following people.
It’s a great place to spot trends, find story tips and get contacts. If you’re interested in a particular beat, find others on the beat who are tweeting. If you’re trying for a job at a particular place, follow its twitter feeds.
Using tools like Twitter will increase your chances of getting an unusual story and that will help you stand out in the crowd. If you’re a beat reporter, Twitter will help brand you in that subject area. I follow Twitter to see what people are saying about thestar.com, respond to readers’ darts or laurels, and watch which stories are being shared. I’d list who I’m following and who is following me, but you can find out yourself at twitter.com/marissanelson.
Starting your own blog is also a great way to practice skills. Post video, add some audio, learn how to use TypePad or WordPress. Shoot and edit a video or piece of audio, and post it on your blog.
Journalists need to report on trends but they also need to be out in front of them. So even if Twitter fades, another Twitter will come along, and being ahead of the pack will put the journalist, and his or her publication, in better stead.
I’m always on the lookout for the next tool online – we used utterli.com during Obama’s inauguration. Who knows what the next great tool will be but young journalists can help us find them.
I believe job applicants who spend time online are more likely to have innovative ideas, more likely to understand what does and doesn’t work online, and are more likely to be adaptable employees and quick studies on new technology.
If you know the online world because you use it, you will understand it better.
Marissa Nelson is the senior editor – digital news for the Toronto Star and thestar.com. Before coming to the Star as a multimedia trainer she was a reporter at the Hamilton Spectator and London Free Press.
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