When we asked you about your #JournoResolutions for 2013, many of you responded and said that your main goal for this year is to learn a new skill. For some of you, that skill is taking better photographs. Others expressed a desire for learning how to code. Many of you just said: “to find a job!!” and that’s something that all of our readers can relate to.
Certain skills are industry-specific, but aspiring hacks can’t afford to underestimate the importance of knowing a little bit of everything. You might not know the first thing about HTML, or web design, or broadcasting technique, or video editing, and photojournalism might leave you cold… but it’s worthwhile learning your way around a camera and editing software — just in case.
So, what does it mean to be a multi-skilled journalist today?
Writing and Editing
A no-brainer, really. Writing well and being able to edit are key skills in all forms of journalism. Computer literacy is incredibly important – knowing your way around a spreadsheet and learning shortcuts for searches and formulas will help you out in the long run.
A blog is a real commitment. Engaging with and retaining your audience requires a lot of forethought and a great deal of hard work – and editors recognise this. Regularly updating your blog and having an easily accessible link to a back-catalogue of your work is a good idea. Your blog not only shows that you can write, but also shows that you are really thinking about what your audience want and constantly considering how to reel them in.
If you already have a lot of bylines under your belt, link these to your personal website or join Journalisted. Unfortunately sites like Journalisted are limited in terms of the news outlets they cover – so it makes sense to link any journalistic work you do to your own website where possible.
Aspiring broadcasters: bylines are generally non-existent, so make sure you link any online/audio/video content you have worked on to your personal website.
Graduates and wannabe hacks are increasingly moving into the world of online journalism for their first jobs in the industry. Skills such as video editing would have been simply a bonus for the aspiring print journalist just a few years ago. Nowadays, basic audio and video editing skills are becoming a necessity and are often listed as essential skills in job descriptions. Your laptop may come with some editing software – Mac users will most likely have iMovie and Garageband. It’s worth experimenting with these before you decide to part with your cash for more expensive editing software.
Knowledge of HTML, coding, and SEO.
SEO is Search Engine Optimisation. In plain English: this is what ensures a page on your blog or a video on a news website reaches the top of the results page on a search engine. It’s all about keywords. What sort of topics are related to your content? What will people search for to find your articles, videos, and blog posts?
A basic knowledge of HTML is essential for journalists. Luckily, pretty much everything you want to know about HTML is available online. Colour coding charts known as hex codes, for example, are all over the web and are easily accessible for the web design novice. Platforms like WordPress and Blogger make web design so much simpler than more primitive web platforms, so you don’t have to be an expert on design to get your website up and running.
Having an audience.
Several friends of mine currently working in journalism and the media list the number of Twitter followers they have on their CV. It’s up to you whether or not you think this will help you get a job. (In fairness to those friends, they have over a thousand followers.)
Showing potential employers that you already have an engaged audience that you can bring to their publication is a big plus. For example: if you have a widely-read blog, it would probably be better to list the number of unique users, average hits per week, or number of different countries reached than merely saying that 200 or so people follow you on Twitter.
The jury is still out on this one. Many practicing journalists will tell you that they don’t speak a foreign language and that it has never held them back. It all depends entirely on where you want your journalism career to take you. Arabic and Mandarin are becoming increasingly popular second languages for English-speaking journalists. If your interests lie in covering European politics, French and/or German will be a big help to you. (I should probably add that I am a German speaker, so my thoughts on the importance of languages are probably different to that of your average UK-based journalist.)
USP has become not so much a buzzword but a buzz acronym in recent years. For the uninitiated (I didn’t know what it meant until just a few months ago) USP means unique selling point – your skills and attributes that set you apart from the droves of other eager aspiring journos vying for the same position. Your USP could be any number of things: your broadcast voice, your in-depth knowledge on a particular topic, or even your skill as a photographer. Do you have any good examples of USPs? If yes, let us know in the comment section below.
While the debate rages on about whether or not modern platforms such as Twitter and Reddit are undermining ‘real’ journalism, student journalists and trainees are being told to adapt or fall behind. Journalism courses at colleges and universities across the country reflect this, with whole modules devoted not only to online journalism but classes entirely focused on entrepreneurship, working for yourself, and making money from your journalism – independently.
We all want to work as journalists and get paid for our work; however, in the current economic climate, it may be equally if not more profitable to go it alone and set up your own business. This is a prospect that I had not considered when applying for my Journalism MA this time last year, but it is one that could be a viable option for me when I join thousands of other unemployed journalism graduates who will be on the hunt for a job in journalism and the media come June.
What skills do you think are essential for today’s generation of journalists? Is there anything that you really want to try to get to grips with this year? Do you feel that there is a lot of pressure on student and trainee journalists to learn specialist skills such as web design and coding? Let us know in the comments section or tweet us @wannabehacks.
Image on the homepage courtesy of Helico.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look