In various posts on the web, this blog, and in the many journalism and technology conferences all over the world, journalists are told they need technical skills to be able ford the new world of online journalism. While new tools and technology do enhance the potential for storytelling and reporting, there are some non-technical skills that both digital and traditional journalists should have.
There is a long-standing, unspoken rule that journalists are not known for their stellar math skills, something some journalists are proud of. (At my undergrad alma mater, journalism students were purposely required to take as few math and science classes as possible because they historically tested low in these areas.) This aversion to math is a shame, really, considering how much math is necessary to produce a news story. Many news stories are themselves based on numbers and statistics. A lot of web, database, and interactive design is based on math, including ratios, formulas and basic addition.
If your math skills aren’t up to par and you can’t add more than two numbers without reaching for a calculator, consider revisiting the math skills you learned in grade school which will in turn help you churn out quick addition and multiplication problems on the fly. Trying playing math games like those available online or video games like Brain Age for the Nintendo DS. Also check out the book “Numbers in the Newsroom,” a valuable resource for any journalist.
Design is often overlooked as a necessary part of an online journalist’s skill set and yet design permeates almost every facet of online journalism. From online page design to multimedia design to various art elements like graphics and photos, journalists should be familiar with not just good design, but how readers and viewers interact with it. Most news websites are poorly structured with a hodgepodge of links haphazardly arranged in columns which ultimately lessens the potential traffic the site can receive. The reason many journalism projects built in Flash suffer is because a lack of knowledge about the tenets of design.
An eye for design is, in the author’s opinion, not something you can teach. Unlike computer programming which is based on repeating established steps and processes, design is based on instinct. Journalists, especially those involved in the visual aspects of the industry, have the seed of design deep within and just need cultivation and practice to bring it out. Journalists should be educated in what makes a good website, infographic, or multimedia project and study what makes well-designed projects great. Digital journalists should also be trained in user experience design because even if an online project looks good, it is all for naught if the audience doesn’t know how to interact with it.
A big part of being a journalist is talking with other people and gaining their trust which in turn gets you insight and information. The ability to communicate with a perfect stranger is not something they teach in J-School or on the job, but any good journalist will tell you they need to be a bit of a psychologist to effectively do their jobs. Some journalists revel in their grizzled exteriors or penchant for sarcasm (because after all what is a journalist without sarcasm?) but it is incredibly necessary to be a people-person to have a career in the industry and to elicit the information and news tips that can make or break a story.