Lessons from the Online News Association Conference

The past few weeks have been busy but exciting in the world of journalism. Tonight, I’m camping out at Hearst’s D.C. Bureau with reporters from other regional papers as well. It feels good to be part of breaking news and dive into a subject I admittedly never follow (elections). I never appreciated a John King hologram or a New York Times flash map more than tonight. Seriously, new media has made old media a lot less stressful.

I’ve learned a lot tonight, but I also learned a lot about the more techy side of journalism at the ONA 2010 conference.

I was fortunate enough to attend panels on Friday and Saturday as well as an amazing job fair on Thursday. My live blogs are on the site, but here are some takeaways from the conference based on my experience.

 1) Stop saying “journalism” vs “digital journalism.” What we’ve learned is that digital is the new standard. Newsrooms have made the adjustment (God help them if they haven’t) and now they’re playing with new tools (graphics, social media, data collecting) to deliver information to a very digital audience. It is detremental for newsrooms and especially j-schools to see digital as a luxury or advanced skill. It is now a necessity.

3) News is going to be a social experience. When you look at basic sociology, it seems obvious that the best way to provide a successful service is to LISTEN to your audience. How do you listen to your audience? You RESPOND to them (as @WSJ does on their twitter feed), invite input and make changes based on that input. I’m not going to “engage” in a website if I think a human being won’t ever see it or reply. People today follow trusted news streams rather than individual news sites, and crowdsourcing has become more important than ever b/c of the limited resources many newsrooms are facing.

4) J-schools better step it up. I was most intrigued by the “Rewiring the Ivory Tower” discussion b/c it seemed like there was a huge divide between J-schools that are “with the times” and J-schools who still see journalism as a degree for people who like to write. I’ll say that the writing drew me to jouranlism in the beginning, but now it’s part-writer, part-expert internet stalker, part-computer programmer, part videographer and part digital social butterfly. They NEED to require HTML and design courses as well as video. And most importantly, they can no longer separate online journalism from broadcast. We need to know it all, and I feel like I missed out b/c of that divide.

5) Know what makes a good site. I really enjoyed the session on website traffic and search engine optimization. Search engines care about social media (notice the amount of YouTube videos and Tweets that show up for your average search). Some tips the panelists gave included adding “related stories” to stories that get big hits on your page, making SEO-friendly headlines and links, ask for viewers’ zip codes to target information, and monitor interactivity. Engagement is far more important than hits. Also, use written numbers, understand the importance of location, use tags in the Titles, describe what’s going on in your multimedia (those don’t always show up in search engines) and write for your audience!

The Best and Worst Thing I’ve Seen in a While: Cubby Journalist Taking on the “Dinosaur”

Gawker found yet another hilarious but telling case of tactless online communication. This one particularly stood out to me because it dealt with an issue relevant to my life on a daily basis–the dinosaur versus the cubby.

First of all, it was rude for this student to essentially call this person a “Dinosaur” by saying his or her job is no longer relevant in today’s journalism world. I’ll skip a rant about this person’s inability to communicate effectively to a potential interview subject and write grammatically correct. But in journalism, if you want anyone to talk to you, the first thing they teach you (and what you should already know by being human) is not to insult them.

Two main things come this post, however, about the merging of the traditional journalism sphere and the introduction of new media and tech-focused journalism jobs. It’s apparent that the “Dinosaur” is probably already extinct or on his/her way out and doesn’t want to be reminded of it, especially by a wide-eyed student who could be taking his/her job upon graduation. The second thing I think of with this post is how unprofessional, unprepared and nieve this cubby is as a SENIOR in journalism school. Both are dangerous to journalism in their own way.

The best part about this was the onslaught of comments that came from the article. Most insulted the kid’s writing skills, but others pointed out the relevancy of a journalism degree that has seniors bug old-timers in journalism as their final projects.

“When I think about how much this student is paying for his worthless journalism degree vs. what the veteran “dinosaur” journalist paid for his journalism degree, which did have worth for many years, I’d say the student is on the losing end of this one.”

Ouch, buddy. We could theorize about the value of a journalism degree these days, but I’ve already got the degree, so I’d rather not get depressed over it.

I did learn valuable tools about new media journalism as part of my degree, but I will admit that because these new skills (video, web design, social media, graphics, interactive, etc) take up so much time and mental energy, the fundamentals can go unnoticed (luckily, my rigorous writing courses and print-intensive undergrad background helped me out). But I still have a lot to learn from both worlds. Right now I’m lucky enough to work with professionals who are reaching their 70s with decades of valuable experience while also working with the innovators of tomorrow’s media landscape.

“How about the person who is “teaching” journalism? You won’t find a bigger dinosaur than that”

This comment also stood out to me because it makes you think about which institution and which professors are teaching you the skills you need to know for this “new” journalism. Sure, some schools might have a history of excellence, but are they in touch with what you need to learn to get a job these days or do they glorify the Woodward/Bernsteins of the past? Are the professors making sure the print kids learn video and the video kids learn web skills? I hope so.

I fall into the wide-eyed cubby category, but I feel like I’m a bit of a mix between the “Dinosaur” and the Twitter, Huffington Post-obsessed cubby. The tools need to be understood and used, but that drive for good writing, research and PEOPLE SKILLS is essential to making these tools significant to society. Otherwise it’s a bunch of wasted messages and pointless graphics.

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

The New Water Cooler: My talk with UGA students on New Media

Yesterday, I had a great time talking with a group of students from a summer program at the University of Georgia on new media. I met with them via skype and told them the importance of becoming social media savvy now before it becomes a prerequisite to today’s journalism jobs. If an employer sees that you are using new media NOW to enhance your work and connect with others, they can trust that you will continue using it on the job.

Only a handful of students in the class had active Twitter accounts, while many of them said they were on Facebook. It got me thinking about journalism education for high school and undergraduate students and how new media should be incorporated into the classroom.

I remember telling them that I feel one of my best tools for networking, getting my work out there, and learning about topics in my field had to be Twitter, although that wasn’t always the case. People must not mistake Twitter as the value added, but rather, the tool to create value-added content and personal branding.

I just started using Twitter to my advantage this semester when I learned that most major journalists and news organizations talked to each other on it as the new virtual water cooler.

I started noticing the web of connections with D.C. journalists, and I’m now observing this trend with college students, NGOs and political groups. Whenever news breaks or if something goes viral (cough the Old Spice proposal and Paul the Octopus), you can bet the Twitter community is actively chirping about the issue with one another through @’s and hashtags. Instead of having a “behind the scenes” page on news sites, they might as well go to the Twitter pages of its reporters for the real deal.

I’ve made “friends” on Twitter more than Facebook because Facebook is a tool I use to talk to existing friends. Through Twitter, I have gotten breaking news from multiple sources, got some tips on stories for work and met people that have been valuable allies in my journalism career.

So what can Twitter do for you? Just like any social media tool, it has the potential to bring life to discussion and create a spot for you among colleagues in your profession. Or it can be a fun way to stay in touch with friends and tell the world what you’re up to every minute of the day.

For young, aspiring journalists out there going through their journalism courses in high school and college–you cannot ignore the possibilities of new media. It’s important to learn the fundamentals of journalism (writing, storytelling, interviewing, capturing a moment), but what will put you ahead of the dinosaurs is your knowledge of web, mobile and social media.

To hear their report on my interview, visit their blog. Here’s what I said on using your degree to pursue journalism:

“A 2009 DePauw University graduate, Nekoomaram took some time to talk about training for a journalism career. She studied English writing and history at the liberal arts school, located in Greencastle, Ind. She explained that her English classes helped to develop her writing schools, something she sometimes felt gave her an edge over her classmates in American University’s Master of Arts in Journalism program.

The history “helped with understanding context,” especially when it came to Persian affairs, a particular interest of Nekoomaram’s due to her heritage. “The news doesn’t give you the history [as a reporter]. You’re the one who has to do the research about the issue you’re talking about. You need to know your topic,” she explained.”

Rules of Relationships: 10 signs of a bad internship, 10 relationship values that will help you both Part 2

A good friend of mine had a bad experience at an internship because the company didn’t hold up any of the promises it made when hiring her. The worst part was that she had a number of other offers from big-name places that could have given her a more valuable experience. She had implemented the guidelines on “being a good intern” that we’ve heard over and over in school, like take initiative, communicate with your boss, show interest, get to know everyone, and remain positive. But sometimes, even Suzy Intern can get slighted if the company is too busy to give the intern attention or flat out refuses to give the intern a chance at any legitimate work.

On the flipside, I understand that employers are sometimes faced with lazy, disinterested interns who spend too much time on Facebook and expect everything to be handed to them without earning it. Any possible remedies? Here is my formula for the ideal intern/employer relationship. Feel free to use it for other relationships too 🙂

THE CHASE: Admit it—we all want a little chase before solidifying our relationships. If things came easy, where would the fun be? Go for an internship that is a bit out of reach, because you just might get it. Plus if you go for one that you aren’t that into but you know you can get, you won’t perform at your highest level.

But just like other relationships, don’t lie to get something out of your league, because they WILL find out and it WILL be humiliating. Challenge yourself to pursue programs you really want, and make sure the company knows how well you’d fit in that position. Be aggressive and daring, but not desperate. As for employers—take a risk, too. Don’t always settle on the intern with the highest GPA or best undergrad. Look for unique qualities in each person that could contribute to your work in a new way. And when you get the intern, take a few risks on them. Give them challenging work, and then throw some curveballs by not giving them work for a few days to see if they’ll come up with their own projects.

TRUST: One of the biggest reasons relationships fail is because of trust. A person has to feel like their best interest is accounted for even when the other is out of town or with an ex. As an intern, you need to be trustworthy by keeping things in the company private when they need to be. When you say you’ll do something by a certain time, don’t make excuses and just do it. Again, DON’T LIE about a skill you have or a past job. When in journalism, you better triple check your accuracy because any mistakes will reflect badly on the company. If you lose their trust, you’ve lost everything. As for employers, if you promise an intern certain tasks, don’t forget to uphold that promise because whether or not the intern says something, he or she wants that task. Make sure they know you value their work and aren’t using them for free labor on tasks nobody else wants to do. When you promise a stipend at the end of the internship or small compensation for a freelance job, make sure you follow through. After all, they’re starving college students.

COMMUNICATION: A lot of breakups are a result of a lack of communication. In the age of texting as the preferred communication to talking on the phone, it has only gotten worse. Interns, you need to make contact with your bosses at least twice a day. I always visit in the morning and then before I leave as a minimum to talk about what I’m doing that day and offer help in any way I can. Strike up a conversation about what your boss is doing and be interested in the things they’re working on even if you’re not involved. If you don’t understand something, TELL THEM instead of making a stupid error. If you want to be involved in a project or get experience in something, tell them. Don’t kiss ass but get to know them as people outside of their role as “boss.” The best internships I had were at places where the boss and I were open about our ideas and projects. The reason journalism is still done in an office when it could all be done online is because of how key that personal interaction is in the creative process. Bosses, if you think your interns aren’t living up to their promises, have a conversation about it before giving them a bad review. Let them in on what’s going on with your work and the company so they feel part of the team and can get involved in more assignments.

RESPECT: Even if interns feel they’re at a bad internship or they’re boss is treating them poorly, there’s no excuse for disrespect. You still need to come to work on time, offer help, and be positive about the tasks they give you. A bad attitude is extremely noticeable, and is sometimes more noticeable than positivity. Dress professionally and don’t engage in office gossip—especially in the office itself (duh…remember, they have the ability to monitor emails). And for employers, use interns to their fullest by giving them meaningful assignments rather than office busywork. Don’t call them “intern” and make an effort to get to know them on a personal level so they feel appreciated rather than used.

COMMITMENT: The quickest way to end a relationship is to break your commitment to each other. If you arrange to come in four days a week, you better come in four days a week unless something important comes up. Don’t slowly start coming in 30 minutes late or leaving early, don’t take ridiculously long lunches, and don’t quit before your end date unless an emergency comes up. Bosses, don’t give up on interns if they make a few mistakes and continue to challenge them.

SUPPORT: Sometimes, we as interns can get discouraged if we fumble on an assignment or get scolded for doing something wrong on accident. Even worse, interns can get discouraged if they slowly get fewer assignments or start to get “out of the loop” on office happenings. Sometimes it’s nothing personal (hey, they have other things to worry about besides you, Suzy Intern!), but other times it’s a passive aggressive way of saying “We don’t like you.” Bosses, try the compliment sandwich in situations where the intern is performing well, but didn’t understand something or fell short on a task. If an intern has a new idea or suggestion, encourage them to talk to you about it and help them pursue that task. And if for whatever reason, an outside party is rude to your intern at an internship-related event or assignment, back them up to show they’re valued members of the team. Interns, show your support by going the extra mile in times of crisis. If the company is facing a tough deadline or is struggling in an area, offer your help and stay an extra hour or two to show you genuinely care and aren’t just doing it for your own benefit.

SATISFACTION: In the end, what matters most is if you’re earning something from this relationship in the long run. Interns, are you making the most of your experience? Are you learning the things you came there to learn or are you bored 90% of the time? Are you happy there? Will you have something to showyou’re your efforts? Bosses, are your interns doing assignments that are actually benefitting the company or making the higher-ups happy? Are they producing actual results rather than saying they’ll do a lot of lofty things? Don’t just talk the talk—walk the walk.

PASSION: No, I don’t mean the kind of passion that will get you fired for having sex in the copy room. I mean passion for the cause of the company and the profession. The reason I like my current internship so much is because I fully believe in their goals and am deeply interested in the demographic they cover. So when I take work home, pitch ideas, and come in on days I’m not supposed to, it’s not because I’m trying to kiss ass, but because I am excited to do it. It’s clear that people do their best work at jobs they genuinely care about, so do work at your internship involving topics of your interest. Interns, choose internships you will care about, ask questions, and learn the different areas of each site. Bosses, spend time with your interns to teach them from your experiences. Share your passions for the job with them and engage in discussion on the issues relevant to a career in the field.

RISK: This one is similar to “the chase,” but don’t forget to keep “chasing” once you’ve obtained the intern or internship you wanted. Keep challenging yourself and ask to be challenged. The interns that stand out most to employers are ones that took the chance and went above and beyond their predecessors. Don’t do anything stupid like ask the lead anchor to go for a beer with you, but be the first to ask a tough question at a press conference.

PROGRESSION: Basically, the relationship needs to have life to it and must be going somewhere. We’ve all heard “Is this going anywhere?” when a relationship is dulling down! We all hate that phrase because the couple enters the DTR…the “determine the relationship” conversation where you either have to make a big gesture like move in together or break it off. Make sure there is an end goal in mind to the relationship, like a potential contact for a future job or recommendation letter. For employers, I would hope with every intern, you see a potential new hire later on down the road. Rather than seeing them as interns, see it as a prolonged interview process for a job. ­