As I chatted with numerous college students and provided résumé critiques at the Excellence in Journalism 2012 conference, I was shocked by how many were majoring in print journalism. In fact, I’m pretty sure I laughed at the first “print journalism” major I met.
If that student is reading this, I deeply apologize, because I wasn’t much different when I began: a mass communications major destined for a career as a newspaperman, in which I would be awake every night until 5 a.m. punching away at the keyboard while sucking down coffee in an attempt to hold off my inevitable alcoholism.
After a few years into my career, I realized this very idea was stagnant, not to mention impossible (I don’t like coffee).
Print journalism majors, in my scope of modern journalism, are hippies. Having said that, I feel I must help those hippies realize that their groovy ways are quickly approaching an obsolete state thanks to modern realities of the digital world. The newspaper (or even TV) isn’t where you break news; that’s now online and on a phone. And the news industry is a radically changing environment that will likely need more Web designers and app developers at a rate much faster than the demand for simply “writers/reporters.”
So, for the hippies who ultimately want a sustainable career in news media, I have some suggestions for what you can learn to catapult from “just a newspaper writer” to a full-fledged, in-demand digitally savvy Web journalist.
From the Web-design view, you should learn:
The coding language of the Web that determines the content you read and how it’s laid out on your screen, whether that is a laptop, desktop or mobile device. If you already work in a newsroom and you’re posting a breaking news story on your organization’s site, you’re creating HTML code that guides how your content is positioned within the frame of that website.
The coding language used for presentation. What makes a top story headline on The Huffington Post, The Drudge Report or CNN.com different in size and (sometimes) font style from all other headlines? What causes your byline to appear in a unique format, or a subhead to be more than just boldfaced text? Those answers typically lie in CSS.
As for Web development, learn programming languages like MySQL and Php. These languages are greatly helpful and necessary in developing mobile apps and certain kinds of dynamic websites. Facebook, for example, was developed using Php. Think that site is going anywhere anytime soon? Well, it can if you learn enough about coding and language scripts to develop the next social media flagship that could sink it.
You can acquire Web skills from numerous sources: fellow SPJ members, MeetUp.com groups, continuing education programs at nearby colleges or universities and, obviously, on the Web. Specifically, check out w3schools.com, where you will find numerous tutorials and training exercises that can introduce you to these Web skills and concepts comfortably and at your own pace.
As I told many attendees at EIJ 2012, don’t be afraid. It’s OK that you chose the major you did if it leads you to the career you want. I’ve found the experience to be challenging but also incredibly rewarding. After only a few months of coursework in Web design and development at an Atlanta-area university, I know about three dozen different ways I can create and manipulate objects and media for the Web. Soon I’ll be able to come up with my own redesign for CNN.com (which is, in my opinion, an atrocious site for any news organization).
I wasn’t going to get these skills by merely being satisfied with just news writing and copy editing classes under my belt. Part of building a career is maintaining a sense of marketability. If you find yourself out of work sometime in the near future (it could happen to any of us), then being skilled in an ever-changing, in-demand field adaptable to news media is your best guarantee of a continued paycheck.
Because being ahead of the curve is always better than being left in the dust.
Tagged under: Generation J