What “new-media journalism” skills do you need, anyway?

Combing through my RSS feeds earlier this week, I came across a post from Rob Curley looking for interns. I posted a link on Twitter, which then goes to FriendFeed and Facebook (which, sadly, still makes it impossible to find permalinks), since the Las Vegas Sun is doing really cool things and thought my students would do well to apply.

One of my current multimedia students shot me a message:

Read the description of his internship openings in his blog and I definitely feel like the student he’s talking about, that can write but has no other “new-media journalism” skills. In your opinion, aside from what we’re doing in your class, what more can I do to get up to speed with what’s going on in the profession currently and make myself more marketable after graduating? Any pointers would be appreciated!

It’s a good question, and one that a few years ago wouldn’t have been asked. (I think there are fewer students who go into journalism because they want to be “a writer” these days, but I have no hard evidence to back that up.) I though it would be worth posting my answer here.

This is a tricky question. A few years ago, knowing how to do a little bit of everything — writing, video, audio, photography, coding — could land you a job at a pretty plum news organization (I remember seeing a multimedia job at The Baltimore Sun a few years ago that was an entry-level position, for example), even if you weren’t great at any one thing. But multimedia production has become more specialized. Photographers tend to be the videographers and audio gatherers and SoundSlide producers. Lots of organizations have specialized data teams that include some heavyduty coders (and talented journalists in their own right). But there is no such thing as “just a writer” anymore, for better or for worse, except for people such as The New York Times‘s re-write man Robert D. McFadden.

I think you’ll want to practice, hone and refine the skills we’re teaching in multimedia introduction (a five-week, 1 credit-hour course required of all majors that touches on HTML, video and audio collection and editing, blogging, social media, writing for the Web and multimedia packaging). You’ll want to understand cross-platform news production, how to package and re-package news for different platforms and products. Knowing how to code HTML/CSS/JavaScript would be helpful, too, as would learning how to put together an audio slide show. Understanding social media and how to use tools like Twitter and Facebook to find sources and stories — as well as promote your own work  —  is important.

J-schools don’t have the resources to teach all the new media skills you’ll need, so willingness to learn on your own will be key. But much of what you learn in school will be obsolete in a few years, anyway. Things will continue to change as technology changes. The move to mobile phones as the main news delivery device is getting closer and with that will come more stuff to learn.

So keep learning. Read industry blogs and follow interesting journalists and professors and college students on Twitter (and maybe even the crazy ones). Read, watch and listen critically. Be hungry. If you want it, you’ll find a place in this new media landscape.

Of course, a lot of it depends on what, exactly, you want to do. Photographers don’t need to know how to code in ActionScript, but some do. And the more you know, the easier it will be to get a job that you actually want when you’re finished school. But don’t forget the basics, the foundations. You’ll still have to know how to report, how to interview and how write. That’s not going to change.