This week we hear from Elliot Bentley, graphics editor at The Wall Street Journal, about his work with visuals and the skills needed in media organisations today.
What is your job title and what does that mean?
I am a "graphics editor", a title used to emphasise how it's an editorial role, as opposed to being a graphic designer. Confusingly, it doesn't actually mean I'm the editor of anything. But it does mean I get to work with everything visual – from static charts to photos to immersives to interactive graphics, and even data journalism and newsroom tools. It's a wonderfully diverse job.
How did you get started in journalism?
I built up a good portfolio while in student media, which helped me land a graduate job in London. Then I worked on my web development skills until I was good enough to get a job producing interactive graphics at The Wall Street Journal. That makes it sound like a plan, but it was more a case of following my interests – the employable ones, at least.
What do you most look forward to at the start of your day?
Spending time with people who feel as passionately as I do about journalism, information graphics, web development and current affairs in general. That said, I also love a chance to put headphones on and hammer away at a project without distractions.
What does a normal day look like for you? In emoji.
What three tools or apps do you use the most for work?
TextMate for coding, Illustrator for creating static graphics and the command line for basically everything else. I could easily fill an entire article with the command line tools I use on a regular basis.
What would you focus on if you were training as a journalist now?
I don't believe all journalists should aspire to become expert programmers, but any level of digital literacy is hugely helpful in today's online-focused industry. And for those that decide to explore coding further, the most exciting and growing areas of the industry await. I don't regret learning to code for a single second. Although, sometimes I miss reporting a little bit.
What skills do you think are important to your role?
There's a bunch of obvious ones that could fill up a job spec: web development, graphic design, data visualisation, various programming languages and tools and so on. More broadly, I would say that being able to collaborate is the most important skill a graphics editor can have.
I'm nothing without the help of our many talented reporters and editors, and I've had to turn to graphics colleagues with greater programming ability or data knowledge for help more times than I can count. Understanding how you can work with others to overcome your own weaknesses is crucial. In other words: never be afraid to ask for help. I think that's true of life in general, too.
What has your current job taught you about the industry?
Being inside a big publication, you get to see firsthand just how complicated and chaotic the news-making business is, but also how much time and energy people put into getting the facts right. It's inspiring and forced me to up my own game considerably.
What would you say to someone applying to work at your organisation?
To go for it. And to fight the imposter syndrome. Even big organisations like WSJ have space for young people to make a mark.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
At one of the first Hacks/Hackers I attended, Pete MacRobert told me to learn the programming language Ruby. I don't use it much nowadays, but Ruby turned out to be the perfect gateway to a more serious understanding of coding. It’s simpler to write and understand than many other languages and is the subject of what I consider to be the greatest programming manual ever written: The Poignant Guide to Ruby.
Join us next week for a Q&A with Mashable's global news editor Louise Roug, and check out our previous Q&As with industry experts in the meantime.
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