5 resolutions you can make to become a better journalist in 2013

Resolutions are daunting — especially New Year’s resolutions. Getting more exercise, quitting smoking, reading more books — can we stick to our resolutions past January, and will these new behaviors make us better people?

Well, maybe not in all cases, but it’s always good to have something to aspire to. When it comes to journalism, there are a few simple resolutions you can make in the first weeks of 2013 to set you on the path to becoming a better journalist.

Visit a neighborhood where English is not the predominant language.

The demographics of the United States are changing swiftly, and we are often unfamiliar with ethnic groups that are transforming our cities’ neighborhoods. We may be unfamiliar with them because, like most people, we become set in our routines; we visit the same stores, the same restaurants, the same parks, the same churches.

We pick up our story ideas from these familiar surroundings. Intentionally or not, we ignore the other communities. And so they are not reflected in our stories. And so we miss some of the most important trends that are affecting our cities. I’d like to encourage you to take one small step and visit a neighborhood where English is not the predominant language. Allow yourself to feel awkward and disoriented.

Allow your curiosity to take you into a restaurant or store. You may learn a new word or like a dish you haven’t tried before. You may even see some stories that you haven’t seen before — and then realize that this is what becoming a better journalist is all about.

Commit to learning one new tech skill.

The time has long since passed when journalists could simply focus on one aspect of our craft — reporting or editing or photography or design or copy editing. Those skills will always be at the core of what we do, and we have to excel at them. But our work, and, frankly, the success of our business, depends on how well we work with digital technology that is continually and swiftly changing.

Don’t get left behind. Commit to learning at least one new tech skill this year, whether it’s your newsroom’s blogging system or that new data visualization program, or more effective ways to use your smart phone to shoot, edit and send videos. Is it fair that we have to learn all these new skills? Maybe not, but only versatile, resilient journalists will thrive in this environment.

Introduce yourself to a colleague who works in a department that’s different from yours — preferably someone you haven’t talked to before.

Even as newsrooms get smaller and smaller, our departments often still operate as silos. We can’t afford to work that way anymore. We have to be more collaborative, building teams that produce sophisticated multimedia stories across all sorts of platforms. At the root of all of that are relationships that we build across the newsroom.

So, this year, why not make an effort to get to know your colleagues who work in other departments — the night desk, say, or graphic design or Web production? What if you were to introduce yourself to someone new each month? The advantage in doing so is that you will likely come upon some good story ideas. And you will likely meet someone who can teach you that new tech skill you’re committed to learning. By the way, if you’re a shy person, you can use this column as an excuse to make the introduction.

Dive into social media.

Many of us (myself included) are concerned about the time-suck that social media can represent. Our lives are so busy with work, family and friends (and don’t forget the laundry). How can we possibly fit Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest (and the list goes on) into our schedules? And what if these social media sites are passing fads? Again, I don’t think we have a choice.

We are in the communications business, and millions of people are communicating and sharing ideas on these sites. As journalists, we have to learn how to best use social media for our work. The only way we can do that is to incorporate social media in our own lives.

And about passing fads: These sites may or may not be around in 10 or 20 years, but the next generation of these sites will be, so we need to learn how to use these sites NOW. Take one small step and check out a social media site that you haven’t used before. Or if you’re not already on Twitter, sign up and try it out.

Eat your vegetables, stay hydrated and get plenty of sleep.

And you thought I was going to stay away from your health. Well, Mom and Dad may not have been right about everything, but they were right about eating right and sleeping well. I’m not going to advise you to lose weight, exercise more or cut down on the drinking and smoking (there are plenty of magazines to tell you that).

But I will encourage you to take one small step and add more vegetables to your diet and cut back on fast food. Journalism is a stressful business, and my guess is that it’s only going to get more stressful as our business continues to change.

If you’re in this for the long game — and I’m hoping you are — then take good care of yourself.

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