futurejournalism · multimedia

What skills are most important for an online journalist?

I am revamping my introductory online journalism course next semester and want to know what are the most important skills an online journalist needs. Let’s take it as a given that they need an amazing news sense, but if you had to rank in order of importance specific online skills what would be most important?

I have previously tried to teach basic use of Flash (to encourage students to think about incorporating interactivity into their storytelling), telling a story using multimedia (audio, video etc), non-linear story telling and chunking, and blogging. But if I were to give you a list, in no particular order, how would your rank these skills in order of importance:

  1. Evidence of blogging and interaction with a wide range of blogs
  2. An understanding and active use of social media (Twitter, RSS, social bookmarking etc.)
  3. The ability to tell an engaging story using still images and audio (audio slideshow – see my previous post for great examples)
  4. Ability to shoot, edit and tell stories using video
  5. Basic ability to create interactive story elements using Adobe Flash
  6. Ability edit audio and produce podcasts
  7. Ability to file from the field breaking news
  8. Ability to moderate online discussion

How would you rank this list or what else would you include?

22 thoughts on “What skills are most important for an online journalist?

  1. Hi Renee,

    I’d rank them in this order:

    1 & 2 of equal importance plus displaying knowledge of a huge range of sources, the ability to reel off diff publications that they read, then
    6,7 & 8.
    Then 3, 4 & 5.

    and they have to be able to write in an engaging, clear way plus be full of ideas with the ability to pitch stories, write on the run, research quickly, interview people and jump in with proofing too… the whole package really…

    hope this helps,

  2. My experience as an online journo is still in its infancy, but I’ll try to help. My rankings would be 1 and 7, given that time is an increased factor with online and breaking news.
    Then 2 and 3, followed by 4, 5, 6. Hope it helps…

  3. Online skills:
    1. Ability to file from the field breaking news.
    2. The ability to tell an engaging story using still images and audio (audio slideshow – see my previous post for great examples).
    3. An understanding and active use of social media (Twitter, RSS, social bookmarking etc.)
    4. Ability to moderate online discussion.
    5. Evidence of blogging and interaction with a wide range of blogs.
    6. Basic ability to create interactive story elements using Adobe Flash.
    7. Ability to shoot, edit and tell stories using video.
    8. Ability edit audio and produce podcasts.

    This order is relevant to our media organisation, which uses specialists for online. Because we have specialists, we don’t learn every skill needed for online.

  4. Hi, I graduated from RMIT and got a job here with Herald Sun Online. I’m not a journo, but I am more geared to the techy side of things for online. So I know most of the mechanisms that make this whole online thing work.

    As from experience:

    1. It is important to build up readership and finding the right discussions in blogs really helps.

    2. Yes, understanding the fundamentals of these sites increases ability to search for up to the minute updates on current events.

    3. This is an important skill as pictures are a key component for online and having the skill to present it using the tools of online is a good skill to have.

    4. This is also another important skill to have, as online journalism has evolved as video is another important element of online. Journalist these days need to be comfortable in front of a camera and also be able to present breaking news events on the fly and sometimes even providing the video with a voice over.

    5. Journalists with the ability to use Adobe flash are a plus. But most online departments have a separate flash designer that would design and create multimedia for online.

    6. This is important as journalist is constantly recording audio. Having the skill to edit and package it so it is ready for online, is a good skill to have.

    7. I feel this is the most important skill set to have as an online journalist. Being able to file breaking news and at a fast pace, is the key of being a successful online journalist.

    8. I would class this as the same level as blogging. If you can moderate a blog and keep the discussion going on for a long period, you are successful.

    So in order of importance:
    7, 6, 3, 4, 1, 8, 2, 5

  5. I believe the most important skill for an online journalist is to be able to write and file breaking news as quickly as possible.
    I think it is vital that a journo is able to blog and use other social media as it may help with finding new or more information that could add to a story.
    I would consider an ability to tell an engaging story using still images and audio, edit audio and produce podcast, and shoot, edit and tell stories using video as next important.

    7, 1, 2, 3, 6, 4, 8, 5

  6. Call me old-fashioned, but to me news still comes first, so I’d rank #7 the highest.

    I’d rank # 8 next. It’s imprtant, and it’s not as easy to do it well as many people think.

    After that, 1, 2, 3, 6, 4, 5

    1. I am glad to see the debate my post has generated. The course I am restructuring is an introductory online journalism course – so I have made some assumptions about the ‘standard’ journalism skills such as reporting, writing,fact checking and interviewing. Although I try to reinforce these skills in the criteria for assessments. An understanding of web production is an interesting skill to add. This is something that is generally picked up in my advanced course. It can be hard to teach I find though, as each organisation will have a different CMS. What do you suggest – CSS, XHTML? I find that I have a lot of resistance to these from students – who don’t want to be bogged down in ‘programmer’ skills. My other problem is that I have limited time. We only have 12 week semesters and I only have two online courses.

      1. I think these are two separate points: (1) use of a CMS; (2) CSS and HTML. You can choose to include one, both, or none.

        I like to use a free blogging tool (today it’s WordPress.com) to introduce the concepts of a CMS. It’s not going to be exactly the same as any newsroom system, but the students can gain experience with most of the common CMS functions by keeping individual blogs on WordPress.

        In my opinion, CSS must be taught with XHTML. You can’t leave out the CSS even though it drives the kids crazy — it’s an industry standard. But the amount of either one that journalism students need to know is really quite small. I think we should aim more for exposure and basic comprehension — certainly not mastery — in a first online-j course or class.

        I do think that most kids in journalism classes should not be burdened with heavy programming, scripting, or code. But those who want to work as journalists would be well served by a brief introduction to “here is how Web content operates.” Kind of like teaching kids in health class what DNA is.

  7. I added this to Mindy’s post and figured it belongs here too… I agreed about making interviewing an addition… and how about “reporting” — news judgment, weighing the importance of a story, civic responsibility, fact-checking and general information-gathering?

    I suspect that was all an understood “given” in your survey. Otherwise, I’d also add “writing” — not just “storytelling,” but knowing words well enough to craft the microcontent of headlines, captions, subheads, lists, tight summaries and well-focused strong leads. (Some SEO keywords would fit in there, too.)

    Evidence of applying those two criteria would help me evaluate almost everything on your list… I’d also add a category for judging /which/ medium is best suited to telling a particular story.

  8. A great list

    I think they are all equally valuable skills

    for me it would be 3,2,7,6,1,8,4,5

    3 gets you in to conversations, 2 keeps you in them and 7 keeps your feelings on the conversation coming through. The rest give you the capacity to develop and present the conversation in ways that suit the medium – when you need to.

    I would also add the ability to connect with a community even when your internet connection is down. Make physical connections. Evidence that you have actually got our and explored your patch, on foot, bike, car whatever. Spend one day a week shaking hands with someone on your beat.

    Knowing where stuff happens in relation to other stuff has a habit of being one of the hats good journos use to pull stories out of the hat.

  9. Just to respond to the point about CSS etc that you made in a reply to Mindy. I used to teach hand coding of HTML to journos (10 years ago) then dreamweaver and now use a CMS. I still do a very basic html to style pages session. Really simple stuff like heading,b, a href, p, img and br tags that are really useful to strongarm a cms at the page entry level. They are less afraid of cutting and pasting code from places like youtube if they see the mechanics of it , all be it at a low level.

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