In Depth

Pursuing a Career on the Web

By Daisy Whitney

There’s a digital divide among journalists today — on one side, those with digital skills, and on the other, those without.

Guess which ones will get the precious few jobs that come along in the near future.

In order to help level the playing field, the Poynter Institute is offering a four-day seminar this fall to instruct journalists in the necessary skills for the digital age.

The training session will be held at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Minneapolis Oct. 12 to 15, and will focus on video, audio, social networking and blogging skills, as well as how to manage both content and ethics in new mediums.

Instructors for the seminar will include Poynter Institute teachers as well as guest faculty: Will Sullivan, interactive director at the St. Louis-Dispatch, and Matt Thompson, interim online community manager at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

“We’re basically shoehorning the last four years of online storytelling skills into a four-day workshop,” said Sullivan. “We’ll cover new areas such as how social media tools can help journalists report better, interact with users, promote their work, as well as brand themselves in the digital age.”

Sullivan added that the seminar will not only introduce journalists to traditional multimedia forms like video and audio recording and editing, but also show them how to work with “new storytelling forms, including data visualizations and interactive mobile multimedia experiences that engage users in ways that traditional, linear story formats couldn’t ever do.”

The seminar leaders expect to attract 16 to 20 journalists, even at the $895-per price tag.
While budgets have been slashed in virtually all newsrooms, Poynter offers some financial help, and many past attendees have used their own money for the training, said Regina McCombs, who teachers multimedia skills for Poynter.

“It’s meant to be a survey course for people who want to get their skills up to date,” she said.

 Previous Poynter seminars have attracted both younger journalists who want to better understand the demands of the career, and older journalists looking to rebuild their careers for the digital age. She expects attendees mostly from print outlets, with some from radio and TV.

McCombs said she’ll devote at least a day to video storytelling. The coursework will concentrate on how to translate a story into video, which types of stories work best as video, and what are the needed elements for a video report.

Journalists will also receive hands-on training in video. “We will get a camera in your hands and get you editing. It won’t be fancy or complicated but you will have enough skills to get started and to teach yourself more,” she said.

But just because video is the medium du jour, not all stories need it, McCombs added. That’s why she’ll also teach how to make decisions about what type of stories should and should not be told using video.

Blogging will also be an important topic for the seminar. “It’s not just about posting your column, but what makes a good blog, how to build a community, how to handle and monitor comments and how to understand social networking and build it into your routine and how to build a brand for yourself,” she said.

The seminar will also aim to address the ethics of digital storytelling — especially how and where they diverge from traditional journalism.

“Social networking alone raises dozens and dozens of questions about how you use it to report and deliver your stories,” said Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute, who will co-lead the seminar. “Should you offer additional information on a story or should you tell it all in your primary story? Should you use social networking to contact kids if you need kid sources? How reliable is information on someone’s Facebook page?”

McBride said she’ll also teach the skills needed for database reporting, something that was once solely the purview of an investigative journalist. Now, data is widely available that can be used for in-depth stories by traditional journalists and bloggers, she said.

“Everybody has to be able to do everything. There is way more data out there, and journalists need to know how to mine it, and just knowing that gives you an edge over someone who doesn’t,” she said. “If each person walked out of here and said ‘I have a clear idea of what my career path should be in the digital world,’ I’d be happy.’”