Twitter’s Web Journalism Chat Addresses an Important Question in Journalism: Jobs

Tonight, mostly led by journalists with jobs, WJ (web journalism) chat featured a lively discussion on what recruiters are looking for in job applicants. Later in the conversation, journalists also delved into what skills and assets they’re looking for WHEN and IF they have job openings.

I eagerly awaited the question that asked recruiters to list job openings. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any pop up for D.C., but wouldn’t that have been a cool story? “I got my job from following Wednesday night WJChats? Nowadays, a lot of opportunities happen this way.

Robert Hernandez stole the show with his great advice, job listings and connections he made as a professor at USC and a potential ONA board member. What particularly stood out to me was the lack of students weighing in on the discussion or job hunters. Maybe they were nervous or maybe they felt left out of the employed journalists who seemed to all know each other and congregate in a bubble. Or maybe they were like me, who tweeted every so often and clicked refresh hoping for their next break.

I am lucky, considering that I’m fresh out of grad school, someone decided to give me a shot. I’ll be working part-time at the Houston Chronicle in D.C. doing multimedia and various reports on select issues that interest the Texas audience. I’m looking forward to starting, but I’m also looking for other work so that combined, they would equal one livable salary. In the meantime, I’m volunteering for two media groups (ONA and WAMU), keeping up the foreign policy blog and looking to write for various publications.

I was glad that the discussion tonight didn’t solely focus on social media and technology, because at this point, we get it. We should learn these tools to be able to compete, and we should do this on our own or by joining a school that keeps up with the times. AU is getting there–it is full of professors who understand how journalism is changing, but that hasn’t translated to the curriculum. There are still classes where  you have to write 3,000-word stories and there isn’t enough equipment to teach half of the students how to use a video camera. But from talking to some faculty last night at TBD’s launch party, I learned AU has incorporated a video class for the online/print journalism students.

In my opinion, these are the big things you need to get out of your program before graduating:

  • You need to embrace social media for all its wonders. Don’t start a Twitter account and stop after two Tweets. You’re probably already on Facebook, so get yourself a Delicious page, Flickr and Linkedin account too.
  • Take Bill Gentile’s backpack journalism class to learn storytelling through video. He’s been in the trenches and is about as real as it gets. Also take his foreign correspondence class if you’re an adventurer or have any interest working abroad.
  • Bug the hell out of David Johnson when it comes to the web. He is the most forward-thinking professor I’ve had so far. He isn’t the type to hold your hand and show you what to do. But he’ll point you in the right direction and help you if you work hard. From him, learn the basics of WordPress, Drupal, using social media, Flash, Photoshop (he wont teach you it…but yeah…learn it), and how to brand yourself. On the side (as of now they won’t teach you it) learn some HTML, CSS and PHP. Kinda makes you want to major in computer science!
  • Learn how to edit and use audio equipment for Soundslides and radio packages.
  • Get to know the friendly folks at J-Lab and the IRW, and if you can, get involved!
  • Dive into Joseph Campbell’s media myths–they’ll surprise you and serve as a good lesson on how to conduct your own work
  • I unfortunately never took a class with her, but everyone who has had Lynne Perri for a class has fallen in love with her because of her great advice with editing and producing quality work. She has also been very helpful to students in the job searching process.
  • Finally, blog, put your work on the web and WRITE as much as you can. I came from an English writing background, so that wasn’t as big of an issue for me. But if writing isn’t your thing, the best ways to improve are to a) READ a lot and b) WRITE a lot.
  • Oh yeah, and intern/freelance. You NEED experience!

Some advice from Tweeps during#wjchat:

henrymlopez: Q2 Be able to learn. Know that you’ll need to teach yourself and learn what you’re shown.

webjournalist: Q2 When I hired, news judgment, ethics, pro-activeness and good attitude were key. Tech stuff we could teach you, but know basics. #wjchat

JeffHidek: Q2 Flexibility is king. A vast knowledge base is great but you have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. #wjchat

SLODeveloper: Q2: Ideal dev candidate would have a bachelor’s degree and 2 years experience in HTML/CSS, Javascript, PHP, MySQL and enjoy dessert #wjchat

kimamoy: Q2 — I look for strong news judgment & Web sensibility, plus ability to learn quickly due to constantly changing tech & new needs #wjchat

andymboyle: @verbalcupcake That they got a degree and have a portfolio that proves they’ve taken initiative. #wjchat

effHidek: Q2 Know the basic principles of databses, coding, flash, actionscript w/ the willingness to learn more. #wjchat #wjchat

kimamoy: i’ve hired laid-off print journalists as contractors, and if they didn’t have web experience, they didn’t last long #wjchat

NicWirtz @verbalcupcake Basically want an example of someone out of their comfort zone and learning something new. #wjchat

wjchat: Q3 Are you interested in applicants being specialists (great videographers) or generalists (scrappy newshounds)? #wjchat

henrymlopez: I am disturbed when I meet people with fresh J-degrees and no digital training. This does not bode well. #wjchat

Q3 Truthfully, know enough about everything but specializing in something. Someone recently said, you need to be a Journalism Plus. #wjchat

BillBoorman: for every interview you need to prepare 3 sets of questions 1 something theyve told you 2 something they havent told you #wjchat

JeffHidek: Q4: Clean up that FB page! We rejected a promising candidate this year after his Facebook profile told a diff. story #wjchat #wjchat

webjournalist: Q7 If you are applying for a Web job, get a domain and your own site showcasing your work. Y’all, it’s actually really simple. #wjchat

What You Would Say During Interviews If You Were Brutally Honest?

So what goes on in your head before you articulate some witty, professional answer during an interview? We all have our formal answers that sound like automated emails, but what would happen if you said what you REALLY thought?

Disclaimer: These are not really MY OWN thoughts nor my actions when I’m interviewing or at work. Ask my former employers and professors if you don’t believe me.  This is supposed to be funny. Haha…get it?

First, I present the “Too Honest” Cover Letter

“Dear: some HR representative that is sifting through 10,000 of these (or if you’re lucky, the person hiring you got through a contact who was nice enough to pass along the name),

Or the worst: Dear some random person I didn’t take to time to figure out or that the website/ad made impossible to find,

Obviously, I’m writing because I’m applying for this job. I have done some stuff in the past related to the job, and I qualify for the skills you laid out. I might mask some of the requirements I don’t QUITE qualify for by talking about something else for a second. If I’m a recent grad, I’m going to exaggerate my internship experience as real experience (HEY…it is!!)  But I’m special–more special than everyone else, I swear. Here’s why.

I know this guy who you kinda know, or who is prominent in this field, who inspired me to apply.  I did this project at this one place that will impress you and I used this skill that you would like. Here’s a fun fact about your company I Googled and here I am relating it to myself.

In conclusion, I really want the job, otherwise I wouldn’t be wasting my time writing this. You really should skip this and just look at my resume or take five minutes out of your day to get to know me on the phone. I promise I won’t bite. Even if I’m missing a small requirement, give me a chance, why don’t ya?

Please email me back a response—even a “no” is better than nothing,


Onto the Interview…let’s pretend it’s for a law firm.

1. Why are you interested in this firm?

What you said: Because your firm has a reputation for excellence and dedicates itself to serving the community.

What you thought: Because you pay $2000 a week. WOOT

2. Why did you go to law school?

What you said: I went to law school because I want to be able to make a difference. Legal work allows me to be competitive and to work for justice, both of which are important things in my life. (ya this is the gist)

What you thought: Don’t ask me this now when I prepared for this interview in between cramming for class and paying the first installment of my tuition. But I mean…I went to law school to work for some place like you, so help a sista out.

3. Do you think your grades are an accurate reflection of the kind of work you will do as an attorney?

What you said: Oh yes, and my work performance will improve just like my grades are!

What you thought: Umm you should only ask me about my Legal Research grades because Legal Research is the only knowledge I will use on this job. And the whole point of school is to do well at a job, right?

4. What would you say is your greatest weakness?

What you said: My greatest weakness is that I get too personally involved with my work….

What you thought: G-CHAT. And food. I wont give up lunch breaks…

5. Tell us about a recent mistake that you have made.

What you said: i did a memo for my boss that my boss didn’t even need but he loved anyway! Bonus points!

What you thought: Flat out fucking up an assignment b/c it was too difficult for me and I was too worried about impressing the boss to tell him. But luckily it was a dumb assignment no one cared about, so why mention it, ya know?

6. What do you do for fun?

What you said: Reading, going to my local church, volunteering, being outdoorsy.

What you thought: Come on, you were in college too. You know what we do for fun. And I fucking hate nature, but it’s really uncool to hate nature.

7. Tell us about your style of leadership.

What you said: I lead by taking the initiative and working proactively with my peers to come up with solutions.

What you thought: Befriending everyone with my awkward humor…heh heh

8. If you don’t get hired by this firm, what will you do?

What you said: I will analyze what I could have done better during the interview and take that knowledge with me into my next interview with [rival firm name].

What you thought: Cry and hate you guys until something equal or better comes along, just like in real life relationships…. and blame your rejection on the fact that I’m either overqualified or a student who can’t catch a break!

9. Do you have any questions for us?

What you said: What sort of pro bono opportunities do you offer?

What you hought: Do I even have a shot? Who else are you talking to? Do you like me? Will you even tell me yes or no?

10. We value creativity among our associates. With that in mind, what kind of plant would you be, and why?

What you said: I would be a tree, because they are tall, strong, and live a long life.

What you thought: It’s Wisconsin, most plants die in the winter. I’ll be a cactus or something.