You Better Hustle

hustleNow 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:

job boards at nicar

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). Nico Blog.JPGBlogs 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:

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.


New Semester, New Ideas, New Journalism

After a semester hiatus from teaching JOUR 121: Advanced Writing and Reporting, we are back. And that means this blog will be active again.

As with past semesters, I want my students to leave this semester with a strong skill set of knowing how to tell interesting stories in a variety of ways. They will learn how to capture and edit audio and video; they will see how numbers and other kinds of data can reveal stories; they will think visually and socially; and they will play with tools. We will look at formats they may not have considered yet (VR journalism anyone?) and look to see what other trends are starting to take hold. And we will bring the basic journalism skills and ethics to bear on all of this.

My hope is that these new ideas and new ways of storytelling will show my students just what an exciting time this is to be in journalism. Despite all the changes and cuts and chaos, if they remain passionate, continual learners who are willing to take initiative, there will be a place for them.

Follow These Journalism Blogs

It’s stating the obvious but I’ve been spending less time posting on this blog and more time posting on my other blog, Skyline College Journalism Department. The other blog is a way to publicize the terrific things our students are doing and to provide advice on entering the field of journalism.  It’s also a recruiting tool, though indirectly.  The idea is that if people know about the department, they’ll take our courses.  We like that.

All semester long, I’ve been utilizing the heck out of my Feeddler reader on my phone, keeping up-to-date (well, mostly) on the myriad blogs I follow, some of which are also on this site’s blogroll.  As I’ve already posted about, I see real value in readers (I use Google’s) and RSS feeds, even though they seem to be slightly out of favor.  Following these other blogs not only keeps me up to date in my field, but also gives me a steady stream of ideas for my multimedia class.    Each one is a free mini training resource–I’m consistently amazed by the writers’ generosity in sharing their expertise. So, despite the semester being over, I intend to stay on top of these blogs.  After all, during summer, I have the open space to rethink my courses and try out new ideas.

But I don’t think these blogs are just beneficial to journalism professors or journalists making the transition to new media skills.  Journalism students have a real opportunity to keep the learning going over the summer just by reading some of these blogs. Want general knowledge about being a better student?  Want to know more about a specific skill?  Want to gain career advice?  It’s all here.  So get reading!

Student Skills:

  • The Chatty Professor–the inside scoop on how to talk to your professors, chock full of great tips for being a good student

TV News and Video Skills:

Data Journalism Skills:

Digital First:


I have at least 30 other journalism and technology blogs I also follow, but this should get you started.

What are your favorite journalism blogs?  Let me know.

Audio Stories Worth Creating and Listening To

Writing often feels like a putting together a jigsaw puzzle–only one that can be arranged a thousand different ways.  Audio, at first glance, seems to resolve that heavy lifting.  After all, your subject provides the words, tells the story–how hard could it be to put the whole thing together?

Like any piece of journalism worth spending time with, the answer is, “hard.”

Or maybe not so much “hard,” as “involved.”  Your subject may be providing the words, but chances are your subject isn’t thinking about what he or she is saying the way you will and should be.  When we are speaking or interviewing, we digress, we lose our focus, we hesitate.  That may be acceptable in close conversation, but when I’m listening to an audio piece, my time’s too valuable to waste time on audio that isn’t tight.

Further, the interviewee may not even be aware of the real story he or she has to tell.  One of my former students, now at San Jose State University, was just telling me about a recent interview he did with an older hula instructor.  He met with her a couple of times, asked her many questions, watched her teach. What he got was adequate, but not compelling.  His story had no center of gravity. It wasn’t until he was wrapping things up with her that she mentioned off the cuff a serious car accident long ago that left her unable to dance for years.  Suddenly, he had his story.

Determining what is interesting in a story is important. As Mark Berkey-Gerard points out, every person has a story, but not every story is equally captivating.  To help his students hone in on what is captivating, he has them apply Alex Blumberg’s “and what’s interesting” test.

Berkey-Gerard also looks to Ira Glass, who has a series of YouTube videos covering the art of storytelling.  Glass is known for This American Life, a favorite program for those of us who love a good story.  Glass makes it sound (and for a while look) easy, with his casual, slightly irreverent style.  But he’s nailed the elements that need to be a part of every compelling audio or video story:  the anecdote and the moment of reflection.  Berkey-Gerard sums up Glass’ point this way:

“An anecdote is the sequence of actions that builds the momentum and raises questions to be answered. Stringing together a series of actions (this happens, and then this happens) makes the audience feel that they are moving toward a destination.

A moment of reflection is the point when someone clearly says, ‘here is the point of the story.’”

But how you tell the story is also important.  That is, learning how to tell a story–how to pace it, how to order it–is also crucial to creating stories worth listening to. Mindy McAdams talks about the road map for effective storytelling as containing an opening, a climax and a resolution–these create the arc of the story.  Know where you are going, where you want to end up, and you’ll have a story listeners will stick with. The anecdote Glass talks about and the arc McAdams cites gel well with Deborah Potter’s suggestion (albeit for TV storytellers, but equally applicable to audio alone) to rely on “strong, chronological narratives” to engage viewers (or in this case, listeners).

So, as much as it might be tempting for the budding journalist to simply throw audio together, don’t. Consider carefully what the story is and how you can best tell it.  Then put that jigsaw puzzle together.