A newsroom colleague recently asked me what she needed to learn to stay relevant in the newspaper industry.
I think today’s journalists have two options if they want to thrive in a business that now requires every media outlet to produce content across platforms, from print to video to mobile.
We can become very, very good at one valuable thing, or we can gain at least some expertise in a variety of crucial areas. And let’s face it, in most newsrooms today, journalists who embrace the marriage of content and technology are among the most valuable employees.
So, to answer the question, how do journalists catch up with the digital revolution?
If you’ve become comfortable doing things the same way year after year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything that needs to be learned. Google ”digital journalism,” for example, and the results go on for pages.
But here are a few basics – think of them as today’s version of the reporter’s notebook, tape recorder and telephone land line:
- Immerse yourself in social media. Twitter and Facebook are the biggies, of course, but give others a try. Tumblr, Digg (a cool new version is coming soon), Google Buzz, Foursquare and Gowalla are just a few of the popular platforms. If you’re lucky enough to find newspaper managers who “get it,” you’ll be asked about your use of these tools sooner or later.
- Start a personal blog. WordPress is a good choice, but there are plenty of others. Blogging allows you to show off all your skills: writing style; shooting photos and videos; choosing related links; interacting with your audience via comments; and even marketing and distribution. (For example, how do you alert readers when you have a new post?) Your blog creates a public record of your skills and interests for that next employer. Think of it as a rich media resume.
- Learn at least a little about video, audio and still photographs. Know the difference between a .wmv and an .mov file. (Link: Common file extensions, organized by type.) Buy a cheap video camera (the Flip camcorder works fine) and post videos on YouTube. (You can make them private until you get comfortable with the quality.) You don’t have to become a Hollywood director. But you need to be able to whip out a camera and capture a breaking news event without a second thought. Amateur journalists do it every day.
- Use mobile devices to consume content. A good smartphone might be your best investment. Install a newspaper iPhone app, use your phone to post Facebook updates, check in on Foursquare, download a podcast, use Skype to make a phone call. Start to make these part of your daily habits. Mobile is the future, and this is your chance to get ahead. (Link: Why journalists should use Skype.)
- Make a habit of visiting tech news websites. CNET, TWiT (This Week in Tech), All Things Digital and Engadget are among the best. If you can listen to one 30-minute podcast each week, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s new and relevant in the digital world. At the very least, you will be familiar with the terminology of today’s digital newsrooms. (My favorite daily tech podcasts are CNET’s Buzz Out Loud and TWiT’s Tech News Today.)
There are plenty of other skills journalists need to master in a hurry: digital content distribution, the difference between good print and web headlines; even how to market yourself.
But everyone has to start somewhere, and I hope these five tips are useful for those who have started a bit late.