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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Mindy McAdams: 'Getting (and keeping) A Job In Journalism'

Mindy McAdams, a journalism professor at at the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, posted a forward-thinking article online January 12, 2007, headlined "Getting (and keeping) a job in journalism

The former Washington Post copy editor offers highly relevant advice in a climate where articles with headlines such as "Times Co. to Cut Jobs in New England" and "Layoffs Imminent at Philadelphia Inquirer" are a common occurrence.

Here's my take on the issue: Journalists need varied skills these days. Every J-School should supplement old-school journalism and values with new-school thinking about Internet technology, interactivity, database research, and speed-of-light online content placement, etc. It's not easy, but it must be done. See "Stunning Media Changes In 2006 Have College Journalism Educators’ Heads Spinning."

On the other hand, journalists waging futile resistance to changes in journalism that, among other things, permits so-called "citizen journalists" to encroach on what was once protected turf need to stop it. You can't be everywhere and you can't stop it. These changes are propelled by low-cost Internet publishing platforms  that allows people once shut out by gatekeepers to become publishers and respond to anything produced by the pro. 

In addition, if you only have the ability to produce copy you may be viewed as a dinosaur as more publications put emphasis on online journalism first and print journalism second. See "Time shifts news focus to website and "WSJ breaks news online first now." Also see "Gannett To Change Its Papers' Approach. Instead of fighting it, enhance your skills and don't be too proud to ask that tech savvy online superstar sitting next to you---if, indeed, he or she is sitting next to you--- for help. Even if they are working from home or thousands of miles away they can still assist you.

By the way, bloggers shouldn't be too proud to learn from journalists. And there is a lot to learn, especially about developing and keeping sources, staying out of legal and ethical trouble and how to keep going when you want to stop. I'm not saying some journalists aren't ethically challenged plagiarists and frauds. There are many. Some have been unmasked and others are on staffs wondering when their day will come. However, I think the majority want to, and try to, do the right thing.

Back to main point: As Robert Scoble over at Scobleizer noted in a December 2006, post headlined Sitting with the Washington Post, "the mainstream press is seeing its audiences split up into smaller and smaller niches with more and more pieces." Print journalists are being required to produce more than just copy for print.

Scoble discussed these changes with Washington Post national political correspondent Dan Balz on December 28, 2006, while traveling with the John Edwards' presidential campaign. He wrote:

One other thing that we chatted about is business models. He [Balz]knows his organization is under pressure to not only grow audience (he says the Washington Post is read now more than ever, but increasingly only online) but also figure out how to make money with its increasingly online audience. He’s not the only journalist to talk with me about that lately — seems the entire industry is focused on how to make money to continue to fund content.

Many future journalists will be required to produce videos, do podcasts, etc, to meat the ever-increasing demand for instant information on current events. Consider this from Scoble's conversation with Balz, who has covered political campaigns for more than 25-years:

Technology is radically changing campaigns, he says. First he’s no longer writing just for paper. Dan told me he’s updated his story several times in the past few hours, plus he’s been on radio and TV interviews. The Post wants him to produce podcasts and video blogs too, or look for opportunities in bringing other media onto the Post’s pages.
By the way, McAdams, who blogs at Teaching Online Journalism and a number of other sites, is a firm believer that "The future is online." I'd say the present is online. Nevertheless, her advice is highly relevant and could extend or jumpstart careers in journalism.

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