I was viewing a "career chat" on the Poynter Institute website the other day when a sense of déjà vu came over me.
I was back at my first daily newspaper learning to operate a then-state-of-the-art camera to take pictures to go with my stories.
The paper was small and family-owned; it may have been between photographers. (We had only one and he died of a heart attack on assignment.) But word went out that we city desk reporters would learn to take pictures and would be assigned cameras for stories.
I suppose at that point I became the equivalent of today's multimedia journalist, although at the time it seemed more like I was being asked to do my job and another's. (But I did get a "money shot" one election night as I covered Democratic headquarters and caught the dejected incumbent being consoled by a supporter.)
These days, there's more to being multimedia (video, audio, Flash, Twitter, Facebook, blog, etc.), but it still feels like a big pile-on. And where do you begin to choose what to learn and how much of an expert to become?
That's not sacrilege from a digital dinosaur; the Poynter chat brought it home:
Question: "How do young journalists know what skills we should learn and from where should we learn them? I don't think we're afraid of learning new things. It's more of a matter of: where do we go from here? How do we stay competitive so we can be one of the few who get future j jobs?"
Answer (from a Poynter faculty member): "In addition to the standard skill set (writing, reporting, story-telling), I'd advise journalists to develop programming skills as well as video and audio gathering and editing. If I were an editor, I wouldn't hire someone who couldn't do one or the other, in addition to solid reporting."
Then later, other participants pitch in:
- "I would also take a MySQL, php and/or programming classes at your local community college."
- "Any programming language you can get up to speed on will be useful, and it's a lot easier to learn your second language than your first. If you've got design skills, then I'd recommend action script for Flash. Otherwise, plenty of online newsrooms are using Ruby on Rails or Django, and it's mostly personal preference."
- "I'd also recommend, if you haven't already, sitting down and doing some video editing. You don't have to know Final Cut Pro; use iMovie. Just have the experience and the willingness to try."
College programs, too, seem to be trying to figure out how to allocate resources for the new media landscape, judging from the comments to this blog, which put online course descriptions through Wordle to create "word clouds" -- a visual depiction of the most frequently appearing phrases -- to show what the journalism schools were emphasizing.
A saving grace of the Poynter chat -- as well as the word clouds -- is this: an emphasis remains on basic writing and reporting skills. After all, the new job description is multimedia journalist.