More skills journalists need

For all the emphasis on multimedia and technology in today’s newsrooms, the basics are just as important as ever. That’s what journalism professor Laura Smith concluded after spending a month this summer working at KXAN-TV in Austin, Texas. In a recent issue of Static, a newsletter for journalism educators, Smith listed these basics:

News judgment–a clear understanding about what news is, how it is gathered, how it’s produced.

Information gathering & evaluation–the ability to quickly find and verify information

Comfort with technology–understand what different devices and programs can do

Writing & platform practices–the ability to write stories quickly and efficiently and understand different expectations for different media

Visualization–finding images and shooting and editing video

As valuable as those basics are, Smith says new journalists need additional “soft skills” to succeed in the news business. They need to be able to work “smart, fast and nice.” Helping them work smart, she says, means teaching critical thinking. Fast means time management, among other things. But nice? What does that have to do with journalism? A lot, Smith says.

Ultimately, journalists of the future will build their careers in concert with their coworkers, so the ability to work collaboratively within an organizational structure is more important than ever before.

In some ways, that seems counter-intuitive. Aren’t journalists today more likely than ever to work alone, as independents or freelancers? If individual “branding” is the key to success, what’s all this about “coworkers”?

What it’s about, I think, is a redefinition of the term. I’m not sure most journalists in the future will have to collaborate “within an organizational structure.” It’s possible–maybe even likely–they won’t have “coworkers” the same way I did. They won’t all be employed in the same newsroom over a long period of time. But they will have colleagues–people they work with regularly or intermittently, with whom they’ll have to get along. And learning how to get along, how to be flexible, how to hang tough when you have to, will be exceedingly important. On that, Smith and I do agree.

What do you think?