What Digital Skills Do Journalists Really Need?

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Q. I come from a print background, but I’m trying to learn as many new multimedia skills as possible through a New Media Fellowship.

What are the standards for “digital journalists” these days? For example, what are the skills/programs that you feel are necessary for employment as the industry changes? What are the tools journalists should arm themselves with?

I definitely want to keep honing my print skills, but with all the things you can learn in new media, it’s sometimes overwhelming to figure out the skills that will be most relevant for journalists.

Is it shooting and editing video? With what program? Slideshows? Podcasts? Producing segments for online video? People are often vague — for example, they say “Learn online stuff!” — and I’m trying to figure out exactly WHAT to learn.

I guess I’m asking what skills will be most lucrative as the industry changes, not just regarding technology, but also regarding the way we tell stories across platforms as journalists. What would you tell a journalist who is trying to adapt to the changing industry to absorb?



A. A lot of places, Poynter included, run workshops or tutorials on what you might think of as essential digital skills for journalists. You will see, though, that underlying the checklist are two things: a strong journalistic foundation and flexibility. So, never leave news judgment and qualities like ethics and storytelling behind, and be ready for further and faster changes.

I would learn several skill areas and would be less concerned about specific software packages. You can make a video with Movie Maker, iMovie, Final Cut Pro and Avid to name a few. They vary in sophistication, complexity, cost and quality. Different industries seem to prefer one or the other, but you will find two or more being used in many newsrooms. Then, of course, we have the next big thing, whatever it is, being invented now and sure to sweep in next year.

So I would not fixate on software. If you learn to produce videos in one particular software, your skills will be transferable. Choose something better than a free download based on your budget and the software available where you work. If you are interested in a certain industry niche, just check to see what specific software is most frequently mentioned in its job postings and go for that.

As for sectors or general areas, you should nail down audio and video recording and editing, photo editing (here, I recommend PhotoShop as a broad standard) and databases (Excel is a good place to start). I imagine that, as you are doing this, you also will become familiar with some sort of content management system (you may hear people refer to it as a CMS).

Learning Web tools such as basic html, and a design program like Dreamweaver or FrontPage, is another area to cover. In many cases, you will run into the Mac/PC choice/debate. Lean toward Macs but be familiar with PCs and check your work to see that it works on both platforms and with multiple browsers.

Finally, think beyond the Web to how you can deliver information to MP3 players and phones. Take a look at Mindy McAdams’ recommendations for a skills checklist.

Click below to view the archived chat about what digital skills journalists need, moderated by me and Poynter Interactivity Editor and Adjunct Faculty Ellyn Angelotti.

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