Five things a ‘complete journalist’ should know today

In baseball, a 5-tool player is someone who can hit for power, hit for a good average, runs well, is good defensively and has a strong throwing arm. Basically, this is who you want on your team. It describes a “complete ballplayer.”

I thought about this yesterday as I was speaking to a journalism class at the University of Washington. The instructor, Kathy Gill, asked me at the end of my presentation what 3 things the students in the room should know as they embark on their professional careers.

My initial response:

1. Start a blog on something you’re passionate about and can write authoritatively about and try to grow the readership. Nothing will teach you about the power and responsibility of being publisher as fast or as well.

2. Think about, and begin to study, the business, markets and entrepreneurialism associated with news and journalism in the digital age.

3. Master social networking for professional gain, either as a way to network yourself into a job or as a way to cultivate sources for reporting and journalism. Prospective employers will expect this of you.

But then I remembered the concept of a 5-tool player in baseball (once a sportswriter …) and came up with a quick list of 5 basic tech skills that college journalists should possess to enhance their chances for career success. In other words, if I were still a hiring manager, these are the skills that would make a job candidate a “complete journalist.”

1. Blogging (demonstrated ability to grow an audience)
2. Social networking (to collaborate with others and network professionally)
3. Audio (know how to capture and edit)
4. Video (know how to shoot and edit a basic story)
5. Photography (know how to make good pictures and build slideshows)

Note, these are only tech skills and don’t replace the ability to report, write, edit and tell compelling stories. Nor do they replace the passion, judgment, values and character that have always separated the better journalists from those who are just in it for the paycheck (if there are any left).

And it’s unlikely you’ll do all of them throughout your career.Once you find your niche, you’ll probably be able to specialize some (not as much as earlier generations, of course). But, in order to get going, having a complete array of skills will open more doors than being really good at one or two and oblivious to the others.

Additional reading:

Mediashift: NYU J-School Students Unsure of Future in Changing Industry

Charles Apple: Thirty-one college students to watch for 2009

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