Now that I’m in the middle of a new semester of JOUR 121 and closing in on our data journalism unit, I’m recalling a day from last year when I mentioned to our newspaper staff that we were starting said-unit in said-class. Each person in the room who had taken JOUR 121 let out a discernible “ugh.” Apparently, the class was a form of torment for them, what with the audio, the video, and the data journalism.
In other words, they loved it.
Well, that’s a little strong. But the point is their audible “ughs” were also a little strong. When I questioned them about why they always acted as if JOUR 121 was boot camp, they replied that it was like boot camp.
Um, guys. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing. And here’s why: In today’s market, you betta hustle. No one is going to offer you a job for sitting at the computer writing about how you feel about the topic du jour, sans evidence, but avec the rant. Not happening.
Since I love you, dear students, I’m here to
kick your encourage you to learn and experiment with every skill you can, while it only costs you $46 a unit (at a California Community College) and while you are living under your parents’ roof. We live in the Bay Area, and things are competitive. You’re gonna want to be employable. Very, very employable. (And good at what you do.)
A good place to start is by being tech-savvy. (Did I mention we live in the Bay Area?) Data journalism, in my opinion, offers one of the most abundant journalism job fields.For one, check out this photo posted on Twitter from the recent NICAR conference:
So, making careful decisions about how you choose to “position” yourself in this field is wise. But careful and deliberate decisions are not limited to what type of journalism you are hoping to go into, consider how many of these fairly basic things you done to position yourself for career success:
- Start a blog. As my former student, Nico Triunfante, told my current class, having a blog serves as a live portfolio. He’s showcasing so many things on his blog, The Lunch Table, from video to writing to managing others (since he invites other writers to contribute). Blogs are required in my JOUR 121 class because blogging brings out a variety of skills. You are essentially managing your own publication. In addition to showcasing skills, though, good blog topics actually create opportunity because you are being entrepreneurial when you blog. Consider how many blogs lead to books or other kinds of opportunities. This is a great way to create your own job path.
- Build your network. Yeah, you’re in college doing college-y things. Let building a network be one of them. Not the we-hooked-up-at-a-party kind, but the kind in which you connect with people on Twitter, reach out at conferences (ahem, go to conferences), beef up that LinkedIn page.
- Get out front. Know what’s being experimented with next in journalism. This turbulent time in our industry means (some) people are trying lots of things. Being aware of what those experiments are–and playing around with them yourself–could make you an “expert” when few other people yet know what they are doing. Think Snapchat. Think virtual reality. Are you playing with these things? (And by the way, these things aren’t exactly new at this point. The point: Find out what is.) If you can’t take a class that focuses on journalistic experimentation, start on your own. And when you do, put your work out there and on your resume. You aren’t being a dilettante. We need people who are willing to experiment. Be that person.
- Continue your education. OK, you’re already a college student. This may seem like an odd thing to end up on this list. But really, it’s connected to each of the preceding bullets. When you take a free MOOC or build a PLN on Twitter, you are a) taking initiative, b) expanding the professionals you are in touch with, and c) keeping abreast of what’s developing in journalism. You might feel overwhelmed with all you’re doing now, but when you possibly can, consider these free options:
- The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas offers fantastic data and social media journalism courses every few months.
- Journalism and Media Studies Centre also has begun to offer data journalism MOOCs, with one starting this April.
- Try the free training over at Mulin Blog Online J-School. Announcements regarding the courses seem to be more current on the Facebook page.
- NewsU from Poynter has a ton of free (and paid) courses and webinars. Take your pick.
- NPR’s site for training its own is open to all. More written tutorials than actual classes.
- Check out the free series at CUNY J-School as well.
- Not free, but almost: DigitalEd from MediaShift also offers webinars.
There’s more out there; to find it, you’re going to have to hustle for that too. Get used to that boot-camp feel, kids. Journalism is always going to require you to take initiative. Do yourself a favor, and start now.