10 things journalists need to know

If you’re just starting out in the news business or even thinking about a career in journalism, you may feel a little overwhelmed by everything you think you need to know. Don’t be. Every good journalist learns on the job. And many bosses I know would prefer to hire someone who admits they don’t know it all than someone who thinks they already do.

That said, there are some skills and values every multimedia journalist should bring to the job. On the SPJ Net Worked blog, Jennifer Peebles shared a terrific list that I’ve excerpted here.

1. Write a basic breaking news story in the inverted pyramid. The story must be accurate, fair, interesting and not plagiarized, among other things. To do this, they’ve got to have basic skills in interviewing people, basic writing skills (nouns and verbs have to agree, dammit) and a basic knowledge of journalism ethics (when we call someone up for an interview, we identify ourselves as a reporter, not as some long-lost cousin from out of town, etc.).

2. Be able to record the audio of an interview with someone, do a simple edit on the audio recording of that interview and upload it to the Web for an audience to hear.

3. Be able to take a decent photograph, even if it’s with their cellphone camera… They should understand a bit about the rule of thirds and basic photo composition (don’t have a tree growing out of the head of the your photo subject!)

4. Be able to make at least a short video story that doesn’t turn out looking like the Blair Witch Project.

5. Be able to perform basic functions in a spreadsheet and have at least a general understanding of how journalists use data to find stories.

6. Have an understanding of HTML and CSS and understand how they’re used to make Web pages.

7. Be able to decide which platform best suits a given story.

8. Understand the basic concepts of libel and defamation and understand that these aren’t old-fashioned concepts that only apply to us geezers who worked for newspapers… The same goes for invasion of privacy and copyright issues.

9. Understand the basic concepts of the First Amendment, freedom of the press and the people’s right to know, which everything we do is built on.

If you’re paying attention, you may have noticed that the list mentions only nine things while the headline promised ten.  What’s missing? Perhaps you’ve figured it out. Here’s my addition to Peebles’ list:

10. Recognize the importance of fact-checking and know how to review every story element for accuracy.

Have I proved my point? What would you add to the list of “must have” skills and values for multimedia journalists?


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