This article was initially published in July 2014, and updated in September 2016.
Some lessons learned on a journalism course this year might be out-of-date by the next, and a course that teaches you one essential skill might not necessarily teach you another.
Constantly learning new skills is important to succeeding in the fast-paced world of digital journalism today.
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 obtain information through FOI requests, and 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.
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.
@journalismnews Shorthand, shorthand, shorthand, shorthand shorthand. Not all journo courses teach it and it is a massive bonus.— Kerrie Armstrong (@KArmstrong06) July 2, 2014
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.
@journalismnews Learn to record basic sound or video interview.— Andrew Hennigan (@andrewhennigan) July 2, 2014
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.
@journalismnews Do short video stories w/ phone or other simple vid capture device + simple editing tool (eg iMovie) then post to web— Jack Rosenberry (@JackRosenberry) July 2, 2014
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.
- Mobile journalism
The smartphone in your pocket can be an incredibly useful newsgathering and storytelling tool. You can take photos, film, record audio and edit using only your mobile phone and a few additional pieces of kit (don't forget a microphone!), so spend time learning how to make the most of your phone's features.
Mobile journalism is a cost effective way of producing more videos and multimedia stories, embraced by online news outlets and broadcasters alike. Here's a list of mobile journalism experts and practitioners to follow on Twitter.
Social media is an immensely powerful tool for discovering and curating stories, but the process can be fraught with the dangers of 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.
- Social media newsgathering
Eyewitness media sourced from social networks is becoming a key part of many news reports, and newsrooms are increasingly alerted to stories by Twitter or Facebook posts from eyewitnesses to the scene.
2. Tools and techniques for digital verification of pics and vids: provenance, source, location, date, motivation— Alastair Reid (@ajreid) August 31, 2016
Being able to source reliable information from social media, as well as verify photos and videos from eyewitnesses is a skill all online journalists should be aiming to master.
Learning more about ways to approach eyewitnesses on social networks and request their permission to use their images should also be a consideration, as bad social media newsgathering practices don't only lead to a loss of reputation when false stories are published – they can also cause your audience to resent you if they see you contacting eyewitnesses in an inappropriate manner.
Thankfully, there are plenty of free resources available to help journalists learn more about verification and the etiquette of the digital door-knock – check out First Draft News to get started.
- Basic coding
A journalist who can write both engaging copy and working code has significant value in a modern newsroom.
@journalismnews coding and digital skills beyond end-user level— Bianca Wright (@bmtwright) July 2, 2014
a bit of coding is inevitable - at least to understand its possibilities.— Ingrid Cobben (@IngridCobben) August 30, 2016
coding for data collection and management. Like Python.— Anders Clark (@andersclark) September 1, 2016
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, knowledge of other advanced programming languages allow a journalist to create infographics which are very different from those created using old standards like Infogr.am or Datawrapper.
Codecademy is one of many free resources that can help get you started with coding. Check out more platforms to help you learn how to code.
You won't necessarily have to become a programmer, but starting to learn how to code will help you understand what's possible to create and in what time frame – putting you in a better position to communicate with your organisation's developers and come up with feasible ideas for interactive storytelling.
- Content management and search engine optimisation (SEO)
There is no use in 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.
@journalismnews SEO best practice - so much of journalism ends up online, whether first published in print or not. Blogging for practice.— Sarah Lienard (@SarahLienard) July 2, 2014
SEO and Inbound marketing.— aman ⚡ (@44Aman) August 30, 2016
Many content management systems offer SEO checkers, but the knowledge of how search engines pick up and promote stories is a valuable thing to gain for yourself.
- Statistics and data
Data stories are increasingly making the front pages as more information is stored electronically and made readily accessible.
@journalismnews how to use statistics to make an accurate story— Anne-Marie Provost (@exovirtuelle) July 2, 2014
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.
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.
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.
.@journalismnews Basics of data analysis & visual presentation of data using simple tools such as Infogr.am— Jack Rosenberry (@JackRosenberry) August 30, 2016
Beyond the basics of Datawrapper or Infogr.am, tools like Tableau Public, Quartz's Chartbuilder or Raw are hugely flexible ways of creating those immediately arresting infographics, and mapping software such as Carto or Google's Fusion Tables allow for the creation of striking point- and heat-maps.
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.
@journalismnews Networking - Already knowing someone when you apply for a job *obviously* makes you stand out, as does a good contacts book— Coral Williamson (@coralamberrr) July 2, 2014
Twitter and LinkedIn essential for networking. However fairness and accuracy crucial to any story irrespective of beat.— Alex Veeneman (@alexvlf) August 30, 2016
There are regular socials organised by journalists for this express purpose, such as Hacks/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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