It's Never Too Late to Reboot Your Journalism Skills

Oct 3, 2012

I've been reading the Nieman Lab's "Back to School" series over the past few weeks, with a growing sense that I need to share it here.

Yes, it's written primarily for students coming back to classes and entering the journalism program. So, stop for just a second, and think back a few years, or perhaps a few decades, to the beautiful campus vistas and the ivy-covered walls.

Now, flash forward to the present. Those kids (and they are just kids) are preparing to enter a field that's undergoing massive change. Nieman Lab has asked a bunch of experts to think about what those future journalists are going to need to know to be successful.

If you have any future in this business, and let's hope all of us do, you should have a look at this series, too, because it's a collection of challenges to all of us to add new skills and knowledge.

Here are some highlights:

  • Brian Boyer, who runs NPR's news apps team, is a force of nature. His challenge to us: build your understanding of the web as a medium for news and try to learn a little bit about the arcane code that can bring your journalism to life. (His reading list is killer eclectic.)
  • Bill Grueskin, of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, writes that "Journalism is going digital. But that means many different things." Some organizations, because of their small size, may require a jack of all trades digital journalist, but Grueskin advises us that our quest to be good at a lot of things shouldn't get in the way of our effort to become great at a couple of things. I don't see this as either/or, more of a nuanced line of thinking about priorities.
  • Dan Gillmor (who needs no introduction) tells college students that they should pursue a broad liberal arts education, in addition to journalism. But don't overlook his essay if you're a journalist right now, especially arguments like: data and programming have great value to journalists, and we should know how to talk to programmers even if we aren't one. And in our environment of news startups and venture funding, he makes a good case for learning how to be something of an entrepreneur.
  • One more highlight from Robert Hernandez, from USC's Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism: take control of your education, whether it's in college, or it's what we like to call "life-long learning." Check out webinars that are connected to your industry but tangential to your line of work, so you can build your cross-disciplinary muscles; there are surprisingly good (and free) courses about programming and other topics of all kinds on iTunes U; Hernandez also recommends Codecademy.

Read the entire series and you'll find more good advice. Class is always in session.