My best metaphor to help explain the basic skills journalists need to master in the digital age? Olympic gymnastics. Some of us can become the Gabby Douglases of journalism, but most of us will really shine on a particular apparatus (this is probably what we were originally hired to do). Photo credit: AP/Julie Jacobson
As I have mentioned before in this blog, The Roanoke Times / roanoke.com is in the middle of a website redesign and long-overdue CMS overhaul.
I serve on a couple of key teams to make the transition in our newsroom: Engagement (covering comments/user-submissions/social media/etc.) and Workflow.
What’s becoming clear is that in order to become a true “digital first” enterprise, we have to go beyond looking at a workflow reorganization or a community engagement strategy.
We have to completely re-imagine our individual jobs. We can’t just be a reporter. Or a photographer. Or a copy editor. Or a social media editor.
We need all of these skills — and apply them at different times and situations.
We’ve known this for years, but it’s always been a vague notion. Sort of like the word “multimedia” — what does that mean?
This weekend, I’ve forced myself to drill down and categorize some basic core competencies — traits and skill sets that should be shared by everyone in our newsroom.
My best metaphor at the moment is inspired by the Olympics: I look at it as the all-around gymnastics competition.
In order to win, these gymnasts must hold their own on multiple difficult apparatuses — horizontal bars, the vault, floor exercise and balance beam.
Some of us might become the Gabby Douglases of digital journalism, but most of us will truly shine on a particular apparatus (this is probably what we were originally hired to do).
I like this metaphor because the sport combines strength with flexibility. It’s tough, but beautiful. And that’s what we should should aspire for.
So what are the digital journalism apparatuses to train for — and master in varying degrees?
This is what I propose:
1. News hunter/ gatherer: We should all know how to research, interview, verify and curate. Accuracy is paramount, and an entrepreneurial approach is ideal. Stars on this apparatus include investigative watchdogs.
2. Visual storyteller: We are visual creatures — images speak to our creative, subconscious minds, and we retain visual information very easily. No surprise that photos and editorial cartoons are the most popular posts on our Facebook page. Or that readers overwhelmingly contribute photos more than text submissions. All digital journalists should be equipped and ready to snap photos, shoot video, present data with charts/graphs, and have an appreciation of good design. And realize the power (and importance) of collecting mug shots and providing maps whenever possible. Show, don’t tell! Obviously, photo/video/multimedia journalists, graphics artists and designers shine here.
3. Social collaborator: Reach out and engage through social media, individual blogs, polls, surveys and old-fashioned, in-person networking. Listen, share and empathize. Overall, be a team player inside and outside the newsroom. Our best beat reporters, social media editors/community managers and frontline editors (who must lead a team along with the content) excel in this realm.
4. Wordsmith: Write with clarity, voice and minimal grammatical/spelling errors. Can craft effective SEO headlines, captions, tweets, etc., and adhere to local and AP style. Stars on this apparatus include our top writers and copy editors.
In the middle of my apparatuses are four non-negotiable values that link all of these competencies:
2. Curious, critical thinking
3. Creative problem solving
(Sort of like the Olympic motto: “Citius, Altius, Fortius,” which is Latin for “Faster, Higher, Stronger.”)
Articulating these competencies will help our newsroom better define (and break down) our roles and help guide our training.
Notice that the mastery of digital technology is assumed — it’s a set of ever-changing tools that we should use in the service of journalism, not a core competency or value.
Am I missing anything huge?
More questions: Where do you excel? What should you be developing?
Using our gymnastics apparatus metaphor as a guide, I envision a future exercise with the staff where we draw pie charts of how we individually spend our work time. And what our ideal pie chart would look like. Pizza and fruit pies would be served, of course. :-)
I’ll expand on this idea in future blog posts.
Meanwhile, if you’re wrestling with the same “digital first” transition, I highly recommend this series of blog posts by Digital First Media Jedi Steve Buttry:
And this post was really helpful, too:
» 8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist by Vadim Lavrusik