The Social Media Skills You Need to Qualify for Journalism Jobs

In February we looked at how people can use targeted Facebook ads to try to land job interviews. Now, let’s look more specifically at what social media skills you need to qualify for some journalism jobs.

According to Indeed.com, which posts jobs and aggregates postings from many other sites, trends show more ads for people with skills in social media, Facebook and Twitter.

That trend is reflected in journalism. Here are some recent postings:

  • ABC 7 Los Angeles, online entertainment producers: “must possess strong writing and copy-editing skills; excellent computer skills, including knowledge of keyboard shortcuts; experience working with social networks such as Facebook and Twitter as well as Movable Type blogs …”
  • The Orlando Sentinel, reporter: “…This reporter also acts as our social media coordinator, helping develop strategies for our online interaction with readers via Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools.”
  • Hillsdale (Mich.) Daily News, seeking newshound: “Must be comfortable with the Internet, Facebook and/or Twitter.”

The demand for social media skills is even stronger among newer companies. Steve Buttry, Editor & Publisher’s editor of the year for his work at Gazette Communications in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, left even before the award was announced for Allbritton Communications’ digital local news venture in Washington, D.C. Buttry said he’s going to hire four community managers, a social media producer and a mobile producer who will all be part of his “community management team.”

“One of the things I am looking at is how they use social media,” Buttry said in a phone interview. “In the interviewing process, I am going to ask them, ‘how did you get here?’ I’m not interested in somebody who claims to be a social media expert, but I am interested in someone who claims to be a social media student. Somebody who thinks they understand it all indicates that they don’t.”

He said a person with a tiny online footprint of 40 followers and 15 tweets would be a concern, but someone with 300 could be using them more effectively than someone with 3,000. “I’d look at who they’re following, rather than how many are following them,” he said.

“My mom is on Facebook, but I wouldn’t call her a social media expert.”
– Lori Todd
Buttry is in sync with Lori Todd, interim online community manager for the Knight Foundation. She landed the job with skills she learned at the Miami Herald outside her job as a page designer. She said in a phone interview that the most important social media skill for a journalist to have is the ability to listen to the community by following the conversations that take place on Twitter. Next most important, she said, is participating in these conversations.

While many use social media, not many are using it in those ways. “My mom is on Facebook,” Todd said, “but I wouldn’t call her a social media expert.” Todd said the emphasis should not be on the tools, but on the content.

Around the time Todd lost her job at the Herald, her colleague and co-conspirator in the Herald’s social media initiative, Mallory Colliflower, left to be a social media coordinator at AutoNation. She said by phone that she learned about the opening through Twitter.

At the Herald, Todd and Colliflower were at the core of a group that developed social media strategies, policies and events, including Tweetups where people who had been connected by Twitter met in person. BarCampMiami 2009, which brought content people and tech people together, inspired Colliflower to push further into social media.

Colliflower said she was hired not for specific skills, but for her mindset about how social media should be used. She said that social media is not one tool or a set of tools, but the kind of mindset that Todd described. AutoNation is in the early stages of building a large social media presence. “It’s a big ball that we’re trying to push, and it’s a very heavy ball,” Colliflower said.

At Gannett Digital, Director of Content Mackenzie Warren agreed that social media job qualifications are not about specific tools, which change all the time, but about a philosophy and an understanding.

“More and more journalists are finding the sources and stories right off the bat by being able to use Twitter or Facebook and being able to build that relationship with sources or being able to find what topics are trending,” Warren said by phone.

Jodi Gersh, Gannett Digital’s content manager for social media, was on the call with me and Warren. She works with Gannett properties nationwide to improve their social media presence. “It is essential at this point that all properties have someone focused on social media,” Gersh said.

Warren added that “social media is not the social media editor’s job only” and that it can help people throughout the newsroom. Warren said that if you have a large social media following, that becomes an asset that travels with you and improves your bargaining position. Essentially, an audience that would follow you to a new home becomes an asset you can bargain for. Spacer Spacer

Warren said it all rests on maintaining the fundamentals of journalism and our ethical standards as journalists: “Having a solid foundation in the fundamentals in ethics and the boundaries of what our role in society is has never been more important because the tests of those boundaries have never been so subtle.”

Gersh said the best bets for emerging jobs are “location-based applications and mobile phones. Your phone knows where you are and reports where you are. Your report is tagged to your location.”

Warren, who championed mobile journalism when he worked at the News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., said “mobile journalists were forerunners of this years in advance because your location was a sign of authenticity, a sign that you are there and that you’re never leaving.”

Gersh is also watching SEM, or search engine marketing, which “references the entire body of tools and techniques you use to go through the big front door of Google and Yahoo” to attract audiences. She said that tagging and search engine optimization are increasingly valuable skills.

Buttry, who recently recounted his digital history, said, “it is not a one-size-fits-all venture. I am looking for some people who are trying to do some things and ready to get their hands dirty.”

Question about your career or job? E-mail Joe for an answer.

Coming Wednesday: Join a live chat at 1 p.m. ET Wednesday on Poynter.org where we will talk about other new ways to get jobs.

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