Journalism students need new heroes

Shortly after I joined the Guardian, Neil McIntosh, our head of editorial development, came back from talking to a journalism class. He was shaking his head. The students, who will be the future on journalism, were living in the past. They aspired to be columnists and commentators for newspapers. They were uninterested in multimedia journalism and uninformed about trends that are rocking the industry. We both agreed. They need new heroes.

What brought this all to mind was a post by Mindy McAdams, who belongs in every journalist’s RSS feeds. She has some sage advice for students and her fellow journalism educators in a great post on how to land and keep a job in journalism. She rifles though recent announcements about layoffs at major newspapers and what newspaper managers are looking for in new hires.

Martin Stabe has a great post looking at the great blog dialogue that Mindy’s comments set off. He said: “Journalism students … seem to aspire to work in some newsroom circa 1973”. Martin’s posts links off to posts and articles by Howard Owens, Steve Outing and Paul Conley. Students and journalists who want to get up to speed with what is happening in the industry would be wise to go through these posts, subscribe to these journalist bloggers. They are at the sharp end of these changes, and they know a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

There was some talk about exactly what skills students and journalists need in to compete. Do they need to learn how to code? Do they need to focus on A/V skills? Do they need to learn Flash? I’ve always been very wary about suggesting too much investment in any specific piece of software. The industry moves too fast. Instead, I’d echo what Rob Curley says:

Skillset is important. But mindset is most important.

Damn, I wish I would have said that. I’ve picked up the skillset because of my mindset. I can only think of one instance when I said: “That’s not my job.” New tasks are always an opportunity to learn new skills.

Whenever I speak to students, instead of saying that they need to learn Flash, or Final Cut or Rails, I say you need to learn reporting, audio-visual storytelling and research. You don’t need to know how to do everything on your own, but you need to know what is possible and doable in this digital age. The software will change. The technology will change so most importantly, you need to be nimble and curious. Your degree is not the destination. It’s only the first step in your education. Never stop learning. Never stop stretching. Evolution and the occasional revolution is the only way to survive change.

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