Top 8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist

As the news industry looks to reconstruct its suffering business model, the journalists of today must reconstruct their skill sets for the growing world of online media. Because of cutbacks at many news organizations, the jobs available are highly competitive. News companies are seeking journalists who are jacks of all trades, yet still masters of one (or more).

2010 will likely be a time of transition as today’s journalists catch up to learn the multimedia, programming, social media, and business skills they’ll need to tell their stories online. These new skills are especially relevant to startups that are looking to hire multi-skilled and social media-savvy journalists. Below we’ve gathered some skills that are quickly becoming basic requirements for the journalist of tomorrow. These skills are presented in no particular order.

1. Entrepreneurial and Business Savvy

As the foundation of the longstanding business model crumbles, both new and experienced journalists are becoming entrepreneurial and starting their own publications. They are creating the “future of journalism today” by starting publications like Cody Brown’s online-only NYULocal, (which covers New York University and has had months that got more Web traffic than the school newspaper Web site) or David Cohn who started the community-funded reporting site Spot.Us.

The journalist of tomorrow will have to understand the value of content and how the business model is changing, said Steve Buttry, C3 innovation coach at Gazette Communications. They will have to understand how to pursue commercial opportunities relating to the content.

2. Programmer
To better transition to online journalism, news organizations are looking for programmer/journalists. These are people whose programming skills can enhance their storytelling or reporting, and typically combine the use of HTML, CSS, PHP, JavaScript, ActionScript3 and Python skills.

This means being able to report and present a quality story using multimedia, and having the skills to build and manage the platforms that present the stories. Creating Flash visualizations and building interactives that clearly display data are all key elements of online journalism.

3. Open-minded Experimenter
The challenge for new journalists will be a shift in mindset from control and content to openness and connectivity with audiences, said Alfred Hermida, Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.

Hermida also says that though storytelling across multiple platforms will be important, the key will be to understand the strengths and weaknesses of different media so that the best one may be utilized for each story.

This also means being a learner that can spot trends and understand what new technology can do, according to Michele McLellan, a media consultant who blogs for the Knight Digital Media Center on news innovation. The journalist of tomorrow should be willing to experiment with new tools, not be afraid of them.

4. Multimedia Storyteller

Today, many journalists need to have multimedia skills to tell stories through video, text, graphics, audio and photos. Former photographers and reporters are picking up video cameras and audio recorders to create a multimedia experience for readers. Online video viewing is growing, and news startups like FLYP Media and DNAinfo are building their newsrooms around multimedia journalists. There are many resources out there for journalists to learn these skills, and many of the skills can be self-taught.

One of the best ways to learn is through hands-on experience by starting a video blog. Experiment with free multimedia apps like live streaming from your mobile using Qik, or podcasting with free sites like BlogTalkRadio. If you have some money to invest, buy a camera that takes quality photos and shoots video.

5. The Social Journalist and Community Builder
The new journalist will be a social journalist. This means engaging with your audience, promoting content and building personal brands as a thought leader. Social media increasingly focuses credibility on individual journalists as opposed to the news organization. Mathew Ingram, Communities Editor at the Globe and Mail, said that future journalists will have the ability to find and connect with communities of interest both online and offline.

Though right now, this role is often being filled by specialized community managers and social media editors. Ingram said that in the long term, every reporter should become their own community manager.

Journalists of tomorrow will also have new beats. Typically, this has involved covering a specific subject, topic or community. The new journalist will have what Ingram calls “virtual beats.”

This means building, communicating and engaging with communities online. Kevin Sablan, Web leader at the Orange County Register, said that journalists of tomorrow will spend more time “pounding the pavement” in online social spaces.

Matt Thompson, interim Online Community Manager for the Knight Foundation, said he thinks technological skills are secondary to the core desire to provide community in formats they can connect with.

6. Blogger and Curator

To be a social journalist and one that engages in online communities, journalists will have to practice blogging regularly and serve as curators of other content on the Web.

Journalists of tomorrow will be participating in the link economy by gathering, synthesizing and making sense of other content across the Web. We’ve mentioned this before as a crucial factor in the survival of newspapers. Journalists can curate the Web using tools like Publish2, Twitter, StumbleUpon, and other social bookmarking and sharing tools.

And with 86,000 print publishing workers laid off in the last year, there is some good potential for blogging to increase. But that’s not to say that only unemployed journalists should blog. Blogging should be done within organizations as well. This allows journalists to lend a personal tone to their company and connect with audiences. It will also help them build personal brands that they can carry beyond their current news organization.

Carrie Brown-Smith, Assistant Professor of Journalism at the University of Memphis, said that there is a growing body of research that suggests writing with “voice” — writing that is more analytical and has personality — versus the traditional authoritative style has credibility in online contexts.

“While not necessarily surprising, TV news anchors long had more credibility than newspaper journalists because viewers could see them and felt like they knew them. This is something I think news organizations are not yet grasping and exploring as they should,” Brown-Smith said.

There are many free platforms available to bloggers. Sites like Posterous and Tumblr offer straightforward posting options, while sites like WordPress and Google’s Blogger are highly customizable and offer various social media integration tools.

7. Multi-skilled
Because of the difficult job market, Robert Quigley, Social Media Editor at the Austin American-Statesman, said that journalists no longer have the luxury of focusing just on one skill set. Journalists will need to have a combination of the skills mentioned, along with the fundamentals that have been taught for years.

“The most valuable journalist will know how to use social media tools, can edit and shoot video, can write a good headline, understands a little about html or programming or databases,” Quigley said. “Ideally, he or she can write a great SEO-friendly headline and understands why that’s important, knows how to write a sharp blog post and understands the value in interaction with the community.”

It sounds overwhelming, but it is becoming truer than ever.

8. Fundamental Journalism Skills
Though journalists are morphing into renaissance men and women with multi-layered skill sets, the fundamental skills of journalism will never be replaced. Skills like good writing, ethics, news judgment, investigation and verification will always be important, Buttry from Gazette Communications said. Brown-Smith said that it will be a marriage between core values and new media skills.

These fundamental skills will be more important than ever as audiences search for credibility on the Web.

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