Monday, March 17, 2008

10 Tips for Becoming a Wired Journalist

35,000 FEET OVER COLORADO – I’m flying back from New York City, where I moderated two daylong workshops on new media for College Media Advisers last week. After breathing the same air as new media visionary Rob Curley and hearing from other leaders in this field (see earlier post), I’m a little dizzy. And I’m even more convinced than ever that ALL journalists have to get wired or die.

And yes, that applies to you, the 53-year-old reporter calling yourself a “narrative writer” and you, the student who wants to write for magazines and you, the photojournalism educator who left the newsroom 10 years ago and just wants to teach kids to shoot.

Journalists who say “I want to write long magazine features” or “I’m not into the computer stuff” or “I just want to shoot pictures” are destined to find themselves without work.

Face it: We’re all new media geeks now.

With this in mind, here are tips for journalism students, professionals and educators on how to become a wired journalist.

1. Open your mind.
It’s time to toss out your preconceived, 20th century ideas about what it means to be a journalist. Open yourself up to the possibilities of new media. This is not some flash in the pan or even something in the can’t-quite-see-it future. This is the way the media world works now and you better get hip to it.

2. Learn the lingo.
If you don’t know RSS from CMS, look them up. You may feel like you’re studying a foreign language, but if you don’t learn what people are talking about you’re going to find yourself in the dust.

3. Get some training. Virtually any new skill you can add to your journalism toolbox is valuable. The Poynter Institute, the Knight Digital Media Center, the European Journalism Centre, the Center for Innovation in College Media, College Media Advisers and IRFA Newsplex are among the organizations offering new media training for journalists, educators and students. Or get some quality time with your friendly neighborhood geek – the lab monitor at your school, the multimedia professor in your department, your colleague in the computer science department, the database freak at your newspaper.

4. Train yourself. If you think you don’t have the time or money to invest in training (I’d argue can’t afford not to) the Internet, books, tutorials and the help menu that comes along with just about every piece of software will allow you to train yourself. Poynter's NewsU offers free or low-cost online courses in Multimedia Storytelling, Telling Stories with Sound, Online Project Development and other skills. If you can’t figure out how to do a particular thing, post a question to Google. The Internet has the answer to just about any question you could possibly ask – probably even the meaning of life.

5. Invest in equipment.
Even if you see yourself as primarily a writer or editor, being a 21st century journalist means being armed with equipment to record news in a variety of ways. Every journalist should have a digital audio recorder, digital camera and some way of recording video, even if it’s just short video clips on a digital point-and-shoot. Reporters are now shooting photos and videos with their cell phones and posting them to the Web immediately, sometimes before a photographer can even get to the scene of the news.

6. Link up.
Social networking is becoming an increasingly important part of journalism and all journalists should have a presence on a number of sites, especially LinkedIn, but also myspace, facebook, Wired Journalists, Twitter and other sites.

7. Get yourself out there. Even before you enter a newsroom (or, for journalism educators, even after you leave one) you can get your work out there by posting videos to YouTube, photos to flickr, articles to Web sites, posts to blogs. If a potential employer can’t find your work in a Google search (and yes, these have become a routine part of considering a candidate for a job), you don’t exist.

8. Create a Web presence.
If you don’t already have a Web site or blog, it’s time to get one. Register your name – or something close to it – as a domain name at and put some content up there. Every journalist should have at least a resume and some work samples up on the Web. Put up photos, videos, stories, anything you have that can show you have multiple skills and you’re not afraid to use them.

9. Stay current. With new equipment, software and applications being developed all the time, the possibilities for online journalism are literally changing by the day. It can be hard to keep up to date but you have to if you want to survive. To get up to speed, follow the leaders in the field, including the Center for Innovation in College Media, Wired Journalists, Mindy McAdams, MediaStorm,Ryan Sholin, Multimedia Shooter, Rob Curley.

10. Don’t despair. Yes, media outlets and media jobs are disappearing, but it doesn’t pay to wring your hands. Even while old forms of journalism seem to be dying out, new ones are rising, offering new possibilities for great storytelling and truth-sharing. Journalism is not dying out, it’s just changing. As Rob Curley says, “The most important part of the word newspaper is news, not paper.”

Do you have tips, resources or Web sites to share? Post a comment here.


Zac Echola said...

The largest sector of job growth at traditional media outlets is in writing, editing and designing for the Web.

Having even basic skills and experience with the Web will open many, many doors.

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Newspaper observations: Forget inscrutability! The difficulty is administration (Scott Rosenberg) makes me conjecture what the Boston papers are doing with their remarks sections, if Rosenberg's submission is on. Is anyone surveillance the store?

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