Future of news jobs

A conference today at the University of Maryland underlined what we’ve been saying about the importance of learning new ways of thinking if you want to be in the news business. Ed Foster-Simeon, deputy managing editor at USA Today, put it bluntly: “The people who are most successful are comfortable with change.” And one thing you can count on is that change is constant.

Interacting with the Web used to mean reporters had to file stories earlier so they could be posted on the Web. Now, it means ‘I have to think about my story differently. What can I do on the Web that will enhance my reporting?’ It takes a different mindset. And the best beat reporters are thriving.

But a study released in conjunction with the conference suggests that in newspapers, at least, many existing employees aren’t taking all this change in stride. More than half said they are anxious about demands to learn new things in order to do their jobs. Seventy-three percent said they aren’t sure or don’t think they’ll be working at a newspaper five years from now. But keep in mind that the study only went out to union members and that the Communications Workers of America and the Newspaper Guild sponsored the survey. We don’t know if those same people think they’ll still be working in some kind of journalism because the survey didn’t ask. And we don’t know how broadcast journalists would answer the same questions.

But we do know that journalism jobs already have changed.

At WLS-TV in Chicago, says producer Don Villar, writers are editing video. At the McClatchy News Service, journalists are programming robots to surf and gather news from sites that McClatchy has the rights to republish. Jane Scholtz of McClatchy says the company thought they’d have programmers do the job, but it turned out to be easier to teach journalists to program than to teach programmers about news. Jonathan Krim of WashingtonPost.com says he needs technical journalists who already know how to create maps and mash-ups, “people who can write code with a journalism perspective.”

The message for students may seem a little mixed. If you hope to work for USA Today and you’re a photographer, learn video, says Foster-Simeon. If you’re a designer, learn Flash. And you should have experience beyond just writing print stories. But what’s most important, he said, is potential. “We’re looking for teachability and openness, and and an understanding of how this this [the news business today] works.”

But managing editor Randy Parker of the York Daily Record said he expects more. He wants to hire people who are using new tools, who know Del.icio.us and Digg, and who also bring something else–a sense of purpose. He asks applicants why they want to work in a failing industry and he expects them to have an answer beyond, “I want to write.” Think about it. Be prepared.

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