Advice for Finding Work in New Media Departments

By: Steve Outing

This week I've been discussing the new types of jobs being created in new media departments of traditional print publications. I'll close out this series of columns by offering some advice that's relevant for students wanting to find new media/Internet publishing work, as well as for traditional journalists thinking about moving into their employers' new media departments. Here are some suggestions for positioning yourself to become a "techno-journalist":

* Run your own Web site. Any student coming out of college these days who expects to work in this field should have his/her own Web site, both to pick up Internet skills and to show a prospective employer examples of work done in the Internet medium. It's not expensive to have your own Web pages: If you're a student, you can probably get space free on the university's computer network; if you're a working professional, your local Internet access provider can set you up with server space for a modest Web site for not much money. Having your own site will allow you to post information about your activities and a resume online. Even if very few people find your site, it's important that it be there.

* Send email resumes. If you expect to get a job in a publication's new media division, send in your resume both via surface mail AND email. The paper copy is still important because it is more formal and may be forwarded by the recipient to others in the organization who are not users of email. The email version, obviously, demonstrates that you use the technology. And when you send an email resume, make sure it's in ASCII or text-only format, so that your recipient will be able to read it. If you send a resume in Word 6.0 format and your potential employer hasn't upgraded her word processor program in a while, it's not going to get read.

* Learn HTML. For today, HTML is the lingua franca of the online world, so at least rudimentary skills in writing HTML Web pages is a necessity for working in the online world. I believe that it's beneficial to learn to code Web pages manually, and not rely on an HTML editor application to create it for you automatically. Knowledge of how HTML works (and it's not difficult for even a non-technical plerson to learn) is equivalent to knowing how to do arithmetic by hand even though you might rely on a calculator or computer to do the work typically. Most colleges, and even many high schools, today teach HTML; at some schools, it's now being taught in the journalism programs rather than the computer department.

* Understand the other Internet languages. If you can write Java script, Perl, CGI and C++, you're likely to be in high demand among Web publishers. But the ability to program is not necessary for many new media jobs. What is required is an understanding of what each language does and what it's possible to do with them. The actual execution of a concept will likely be handed over to a programmer, with others involved earlier on in the design phase of creating new services on a Web site or other new media project.

* Learn how to search the Net. Increasingly, journalists are using the Internet as a research and reporting tool. You should know how to zero in on the information you need on the Web (not a difficult task today), as well as how to find experts via email, mailing lists, newsgroups, etc.

* Stay on top of industry trends. Recognize that new media is a moving target. What's hot technology today can be ice cold next week, and last week's business plan can be quickly outdated by a newly introduced technology. It's absolutely imperative if you want to work in new media to stay apprised of the latest industry trends. So read trade magazines and utilize online information sources.

* Participate in online discussions. One of the best ways to stay on top of trends in the online/Internet publishing business is to participate in online industry discussion forums, such as mailing lists and newsgroups. One of the best forums is a list that I manage called online-news, a worldwide discussion group on the topic of online publishing and the transition of traditional media to the digital world. I operate a second list, online-newspapers, which is restricted to newspaper professionals. (To sign up for that list, send me a note and include your professional affiliation.)

* Pick up design skills. One of the best mixes of experience a new media job candidate can have today is a combination of editorial, online and graphic design skills. "Techno-journalists" who have design skills as part of their repertoire are in great demand and are commanding higher-than-average salaries.

* Learn to use appropriate software applications. Knowing how to type is not nearly enough these days. The successful job candidate will know how to use software applications commonly used in creating Web pages, such as Quark XPress, Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and HTML editors. If a candidate can demonstrate proficiency and does not need to be trained, he'll have an edge over other applicants.

* Look outside traditional media organizations. Tomorrow's journalists will be working for companies of different stripes. This is good news for the job seeker, because more companies are looking for individuals with journalism skills. So, take a broader view of who might be a potential employer. It might be a traditional media organization's new media division, but it might instead be Microsoft, America Online, AT&T or Yahoo.

* Recognize that you may not be employed for life. The information age has brought a profound change to the work world: few companies can offer an employee the commitment of lifelong employment -- or even a guaranteed job for several years. This is particularly the case in the volatile new media business. My advice is to recognize this fact -- that the project you're working on could be pulled out from beneath you -- and always be prepared to move on to something else. That means making a lifelong commitment to continually picking up new skills and staying knowledgeable about industry trends. Be ready to jump to the next train if the one you're on crashes.

* Consider going it alone. Finally, remember that the Internet has opened up the playing fields to anyone with vision and creativity. Even a student just coming out of college can opt for self-employment. It just takes great ideas, creativity, vision and perseverance -- not necessarily a large bank account. I'm not suggesting this is easy, but young "techno-journalists" have the ability in the Internet environment to make a living without a corporate parent.

Launching online service the print way

The Toronto Star in Canada last weekend formally launched its Web site, T-O Online, and affiliated Internet access service, HotStar. It introduced its print readership to the service with a splashy 8-page insert last Saturday announcing the service and offering a number of articles by Star reporters designed to explain the Internet to a general audience. The insert was colorful, nicely designed, and a great kick-off ploy for the service. The power of the printed newspaper was fully harnessed to publicize the new offering.

One item in the insert I found particularly interesting: The HotStar Internet access service is being offered at $29.95 (Cdn) per month for 90 hours, plus a $19.95 set-up fee. Inside the "Brave New World" print insert was an advertisement for Netcom Canada's access service -- price: $26.95 (Cdn) for unlimited hours and no set-up fee. The Star may be betting that access bundled with content will support a higher price. My view is that they will find this to be a mistake.

No Stop The Presses! column tomorrow

There will be no column on Friday due to the Easter holiday. Stop The Presses! will return on Mon., April 8.

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