What Publishers Look for in New Media Hires

By: Steve Outing

Jobs in new media departments of traditional publishing organizations still represent a small fraction of all media jobs, but the numbers are growing rapidly. More and more job opportunities are emerging at publishing companies for what might be termed "technojournalists." And individuals with the right combination of journalism and Internet skills are finding it easy to find work, just as many traditional journalists -- struggling to find their place in a downsized print publishing industry -- compete for a smaller pool of jobs.

In short, the ticket to job security for journalists today may be to pick up some new media skills, because they will be increasingly important to your long-term career success. And, more of the new jobs opening up in journalism in the future will be in new media.

What do new media managers look for when hiring? Recently, I asked members of the online-news Internet mailing list, many of whom are managers for publications' new media departments, to tell me what they look for. What I heard repeatedly was that the ideal candidate for a new media job would have sound experience and skills in traditional editing and reporting, combined with: 1) experience in the online world and the ability to use the Internet as a research and communication tool, 2) the ability to write HTML and create Web pages, 3) graphic design and layout skills, and 4) versatility, such that they are prepared for the broad range of tasks they will be asked to perform in the new media environment.

A student coming out of journalism school today enters a very different environment than the one I entered in 1978, fresh out of college. Many new media jobs today require a range of skills; just knowing how to report and write a news story is not enough, though it was for me 18 years ago.

The above combination of skills and talents is much in demand among employers. With few candidates possessing everything an employer is looking for, those who can demonstrate the full technojournalist's repertoire are commanding higher salaries than those going into traditional print publishing jobs. And they're jumping into jobs while their tradition-bound colleagues enter intense competition for limited print editorial openings.

Bruce Koon, managing editor of Mercury Center, the online service of the San Jose Mercury News, says, "I still look for hires with solid journalism skills -- students or professionals who still understand the basic role of newspapers in a free society, have good news judgment and know what's involved in good editing and reporting. But then they need to have already spent a year or more online and must be able to navigate the Web and can pull information and research from the Internet. If they can't send me their resumes by email and show me a couple examples of their work on the Web, then they won't get an interview. They need to tell what they do online if they didn't have to for their job and what they use their computer for. They need to have basic knowledge of HTML, but they don't need to write code like Perl."

Jeff Greene of the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey says that publications' online sites have stressed the technical side of the equation, but that's changing. "Judging from my own experience, I'd say news organizations are looking for people with both a news background and an Internet background," he says, "but as their Internet sites mature, they will increasingly stress the news component over the Net component. Simply, programmers are one breed of animal, who can certainly put together Web pages. But while a lot of new media technojournalists cannot write a C++ script, we can package and sell news to readers in an often-overwhelming market."

Rich Gordon, online services manager of the Miami Herald, says he "values versatility more than anything else. One of my producers spent a number of years in marketing -- she's going to help with promotion of what we're doing. Another one is a reporter who has spent the past couple of years pursuing (on his own time) an interest in graphics and design. My designer/illustrator has expertise in multimedia presentations -- which will be valuable when we take our show on the road for groups."

And Eric Meyer of Newslink Associates, who also is a journalism professor at Marquette University, suggests that new media skills are important even if you won't be using them in your immediate position. "What I'm noticing from employers looking at my students is an interest in hiring traditional reporters, copy editors, designers and the like who ALSO possess online skills," he says. "They often aren't looking at current openings, and in many cases don't even have a Web site. But they want to make sure that, somewhere down the road, when online becomes something they are interested in, the people they have on their staff will have at least some sort of background in it. Online skills thus become that one 'extra' that puts a prospective job applicant for a traditional position over the top. ... My advice to students is that they should learn online skills and hope someday to use them as PART, but not all, of their repertoire." Meyer says some of his best students, who combine journalism (particularly design) with online skills, are getting snapped up by major newspaper chains. In particular demand, he says, are advertising majors who come out of school with World Wide Web skills. "They often can walk right into major ad agencies in creative departments," he says.

A great example of this new breed of journalist is Deb Fellner, a 23-year-old "editor/harvester" for @Home, the TCI-backed cable modem-delivery venture, and a 1994 journalism grad. Since graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Fellner has worked for The Guardian in London and Wired UK, at the latter as an "editor/surfer." "Since graduation, I have yet to have a 'traditional' title in journalism," she says. In her current job she spends time "surfing the Web (yes, I get paid for this), finding great broadband-rich content and packaging the content into home pages on our site (not public yet). It's basically an editor/producer type position where I am creating and laying out 'newspaper' pages on an hourly basis, writing headline and teasers, incorporating broadband media, etc."

Fellner says that at her organization, HTML wizards are in great demand and are commanding excellent salaries. "If you are a great digital artist with a quick mind for HTML, Director, Java and all that stuff, you can make a bundle," she says.

Her advice to students wishing to follow in her footsteps: "The best thing to do is really develop an understanding of how people use the Web for information, entertainment and communication. That knowledge, coupled with the ability to tell a story using Web tools, will get them far."

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This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at outings@netcom.com


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