Saturday, February 20, 2010

Useful pointers for journalism students

(excerpts from New York Times - Advice for Journalism Students

Q. Wondering if I could get your advice for my journalism students — what kind of things should someone who is considering a career path in journalism understand about the relationship between the business side and the editorial side in the online world? How should these students prepare themselves in terms of business knowledge and additional entrepreneurial skills?
— Mo Krochmal, assistant professor of journalism, media studies, and public relations, Hofstra University

A. I advise journalists coming out of school today to take a programming course or two, at least. I also think it’s a good idea for journalists to have a basic understanding of business; after all, journalism is a business in the United States and journalists should understand the basics of the businesses they work for. Regarding entrepreneurial skills, the best way to learn them is to work in a startup or early-stage business. Talk to accomplished venture capitalists. Read some of the better venture capitalist blogs. Dive in.

Career Concerns of Journalism Students

Q. What advice do you have for students considering a career in journalism and related fields, what skills would a student need to be marketable in a highly competitive field, and how can you reassure the career concerns for someone going into this field?
— Mark Fiorito

A. I’ve turned to my colleague, Deputy Managing Editor Jon Landman, who manages the editorial side of, for an answer to this one. He writes:

For someone intent on a career at a newspaper or news magazine, there's no reassurance to give. Those careers will be harder and harder to establish and jobs at journalism companies that come with health insurance and a pension will be scarce, to say the least. But journalism is changing, not dying, and for someone with an entrepreneurial bent, a sense of adventure and a sense of the value of journalism as a calling, there are still opportunities.

A handful of big news organizations, like this one, have flourishing Web sites along with their familiar print publications. Journalists with technical savvy and technical people with a passion for journalism are almost always in demand. There are opportunities in specialty journalism like Politico, which publishes in print and online for people hungry for detailed information about national politics. Journalistically minded startups employ some journalists;, for example, has editors who manage Web-only news and information sites for small towns. And there are large numbers of news entrepreneurs with a vision for news and a blog or some other platform. Some, like Joshua Marshall of Talking Points Memo are well known; others struggle for attention and a niche.

In all cases, basic journalistic skills and values — curiosity, skepticism, intellectual honesty, a sense of fair play, the ability to tell a story well — remain as essential as ever.

I largely agree with Jon’s view: The number of traditional news outlets, and jobs in those places, is diminishing. From my perspective, the shift taking place today is part of a very long-term transition from telling stories in analog formats, to working in digital ones. We are in the middle of that transition today, and for those of us inside, it sometimes feels a little like working in the midst of a great hurricane.

On the other hand, transitions such as these often offer great opportunities for people who are more entrepreneurial. My friend Rafat Ali, for example, was a young journalist who started a site called in the middle of the dotcom bust. He recently sold his business to The Guardian for a very tidy sum, and he and his staff now run the business inside a larger entity.
If I were in college today, I’d try to complement my journalistic training with a combination of hands-on technical expertise and some basic courses in business management and finance. The most important thing Jon recommends, in my view, is the “sense of adventure” necessary during times like these.

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