Student with book
Credit: By Wiertz Sébastien on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
The lessons learned on a journalism course this year might be out-of-date by the next, and a course that teaches you one essential skill might not necessarily teach you another.

Here, then, is a crowdsourced list of the most useful skills current journalists believe you should learn for yourself.

  • Freedom of Information requests
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a powerful tool in trained hands. Learning to navigate the exemptions and rejections is essential for anyone seeking to request information through FOI requests, and happily there are many options available for those looking to increase their knowledge.

Sites like What Do They Know offer help and advice to their users, thousands of example requests and maintain an exhaustive database of all the bodies to which FOI requests can be made. Since the Government's own FOIA page is sprawling and complicated, books like Heather Brooke's 'Your Right To Know' can also help you understand why a request has been denied and how best to appeal.
  • Shorthand
Learning shorthand is a process that requires a lot of practice and patience but ultimately is well worth the effort: taking swift, accurate notation during an interview enables you to create interesting pieces with the transcription and significantly lowers the chances of accidental libel.

There are NCTJ-accredited textbooks available that allow you to learn in your own time, in addition to courses that provide a certificate upon completion.

  • Creating video and audio stories
As video and audio editing technology becomes more streamlined it is always worth keeping up to date with new options and techniques it offers.

Advice on choosing appropriate equipment can be found on many amateur sites, and purchasing extras, like tripod stands, allows you to make notes about possible highlights or edit points while you record. Editing the recording down to an appropriate length and removing any unnecessary digressions is by far the most time-consuming part of the process, and one that you can only learn through practice. 

Not every story will necessarily need a video or audio component, however. Deciding which stories would most benefit from one is another essential skill for a modern journalist.

  • Crowdsourcing
Social media is an immensely powerful tool for discovering and curating stories, but the process can be fraught with the dangers of libel and copyright law. Reading up on how best to engage with online communities to source stories is a great way to learn the theory, but identifying superusers and community nodes is a skill that requires practical experience.

It is also worth learning how to quickly verify pictures and posts made on social media. This can be done by simply conducting a reverse image search or some image level analysis to prove a picture is real, through to more complicated techniques like examining geolocation and EXIF data to verify time and location of a tweet. Such checks are vital, since repeating a false story will do damage to your credibility.

  • Basic Coding
A journalist who can write both engaging copy and working code has significant value in a modern newsroom.
Basic knowledge of how to edit HTML and CSS means a journalist can make their story look slick and is almost always required for subbing copy online.

Beyond that, jnowledge of other advanced programming languages allow a journalist to create infographics which are very different from those created using old standards like Infogr.am Datawrapper

Codecademy is one of many free resources that can help get you started with coding.
  • Content management and search engine optimisation
There is no use publishing to a void; attracting readers to an article through effective use of content management systems and search engine optimisation (SEO) are vital skills in a modern newsroom and one that is often neglected by journalism courses.

Many CMSes offer SEO checkers, but the knowledge of how search engines pick up and promote stories is a valuable thing to gain for yourself.

This guide from MOZ is a helpful starter point.

  • Statistics and Data
Data stories are increasingly making the front pages as more information is stored electronically and made readily accessible.

Interpreting the regular releases of data and creating a story from them is a skill in itself, but cleaning and organising huge spreadsheets into easily parsable segments is well within the capabilities of a modern journalist.

Statisticians seem especially keen to pass on their knowledge, so books that teach you how to interpret data aren't hard to come by.

  • Scraping
For when data isn't readily available, or is spread over a variety of locations, learning to 'scrape' that information from relevant sources is an especially useful tool for a data journalist.

Sometimes called web harvesting, the process involves creating a formula that grabs the relevant information from each each source you specify.

Thankfully, there are a number of free tools and guides available, like the Google Chrome app Web Scraper, this guide from School of Data, and services like Import.io.

Once you have learned the basic techniques, or how to use scraping tools like Outwit Hub, a competent scraper saves a tremendous amount of time. 

  • Data Visualisation
It's one thing to have discovered a story in a data release and quite another to effectively communicate that story. Great data visualisations immediately communicate the facts of the story in a way that plain text could not.

ampp3d 1
Screenshot from Ampp3d

Beyond the basics of Datawrapper, tools likeTableau Public,Quartz's Chartbuilder orRaw are hugely flexible ways of creating those immediately arresting infographics, and mapping software such asCartoDB or Google'sFusion Tables allow for the creation of striking point- and heat-maps that illustrate global inequalities.

Since each tool has a different back-end and a variety of options, it takes practice to learn how to use them all effectively and choose the most appropriate one for your data.
  • Gaining and maintaining contacts
Less of an academic endeavour but just as important, gaining contacts within the industry is paramount for an ambitious journalist.


There are regular socials organised by journalists for this express purpose, such asHacks/Hackers<, and our own Journalism.co.uk Socials, and learning to mingle and begin lasting relationships at these events is as essential as it is extra-curricular.

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