Friday, October 26, 2007

Seven months left - where do I go from here?

I just read this post from Mindy McAdams. It brings out some of the things I have been thinking a lot about lately. I have about seven months before I am due to graduate with a degree in journalism — a degree in print journalism — and I spend a lot of time wondering what I need to do to be ready for my first job. I am really lucky to be in Washington doing an internship at WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive right now, but there is still no guarantee I will be working come June.

I have spent the last year trying to get the online skills I need to get a good job. I think I have some of the basics down. I spent a semester as a reporter for the school paper. I spent the summer at NBC11, and now I am working on Loudoun Extra and other projects for the Post. What else do I need to do to get companies to fight over me once I graduate?

Mindy's five points, in italics, with my thoughts:

  1. You don’t have to be a programmer. But you need to have more than one skill. Another way to say that is, You need to have more than only print skills. This is the main concern I have. All of my education has focused on print. But I don't want to be a print reporter. At the same time, I don't want to be a programmer either. What other skills do I need? Should I pick one area to specialize in?
  2. If you have not taken any online skills courses at all, and spring is your final semester, and the intro online course conflicts with one of your required courses that you waited until now to take — sign up for the online course, and delay your graduation. Do you want to graduate? Or do you want a job? I have one semester left. But I have taken all of the online courses there are (OK, I took the only online journalism class offered). Should I take some classes in photography now? What about broadcast? At least those classes would give me some good skills that will transfer to online projects.
  3. You can go home tonight and learn to make a Web page. ... I have a Web site and a blog, definitely the two best things I have done to learn new things. But I am not sure that is enough. I still have no clue what CSS is, or PHP or a lot of other things. Should I worry about that? What else do I need other than the basic HTML?
  4. You should not even be thinking about Flash if you never made a Soundslides. Download Soundslides here. Free demo version. See what kind of story you can tell. I have done a little with Soundslides. But I have gotten the impression I need to learn Flash. But from my little experience here, I think maybe there are other things that are more important. Should I learn Flash or not?
  5. Every journalist can learn to gather and edit audio for online. Start here. You probably already have a digital recorder. Buy an external microphone. Download Audacity. Get busy. Again, I have done a little with audio. But what about video? I actually really want to learn video, but don't have the money right now to fork over for a fancy camera and software. Where should I start?
I hope that I do not sound like I am depressed and gloomy about my future. Honestly, I am more optimistic and excited about this industry than ever before. I am just at the point where I have some important decisions to make and I am not sure what direction I should go.

During a brief conversation yesterday, Rob Curley pointed out to us some of the same things Mindy mentioned. A degree in journalism is not worth much. I need something more. I have been trying to get that, but I think I am worried because I have not found a niche that is quite right yet. I know I don't want to be a reporter. I don't want to be a programmer. So I am trying to figure out where the middle is, and where I might fit in best. I have started down the path Mindy is pointing to, but now I am at a fork and not sure where to go. Any suggestions?


Adpet said...

It is my experience that flash, video, and other media rich formats are generally left to a specialist/designer when in the real world work environment. Sure, as a reporter you need to understand and have a basic working knowledge of how these differing media types can be used and for what. But to be honest, I wouldn't bother yourself with being a flash or video pro, be a good reporter! That will be your best asset.

Mindy McAdams said...

"I know I don't want to be a reporter. I don't want to be a programmer." Does this fit? You want to be the person who puts it together, who helps to tell the story, who thinks about why the story matters and how best to let people know what's in the package so they can enjoy it.

If that's the case, maybe you do want to learn Flash -- even though you are not an artist. Maybe your area is INFORMATION DESIGN. It's kind of like being an editor -- for the new era.

Geof Harries said...

Learn the basics of HTML and CSS now, because you can always add more advanced knowledge, such as Flash, PHP or other server-side technologies, later. The most important thing is to have a strong foundation and HTML/CSS provides that. When you understand their limitations and opportunities, the how and the why, the design/reporting and the build/process, you'll be much further along than you currently think, believe me.

Timothy said...

I'll second Geof's notion about knowing HTML and CSS. Most importantly, just know how things work: if you know what's possible it's pretty easy to find someone to teach you even after you're out of school. HTML and CSS will give you a good sense of what lying underneath the browser.

If you want to know flash, learn photoshop and possibly illustrator, too. Buy some total training videos off of ebay and run them in your spare time.

iMovie, audacity and soundslides are all good. The more applications you learn, the quicker study you'll be.

It also goes without saying that if you're going to be a visual storyteller, you might want to start picking up some design books, or trying to figure out what photos and movies you like the look of. Having a good eye for composition is a great secret weapon.

camccune said...

You can always figure out what CSS is and how it works by reading some online tutorials (like this one at or books, or by attending a workshop or two.

Honestly, I think the most important thing is not to decide on one clear direction or area of specialization, but simply to keep learning and be willing to jump on any opportunities that come your way (like the Washington Post internship).

You have to be a lifelong learner, and be willing to teach yourself. From what I've seen, you should do OK.