Ten things every journalist should know in 2010

This is an update on a post I wrote at the beginning of last year – Ten things every journalist should know in 2009. I still stand by all those points I made then so consider the following 10 to be an addendum.

1. How to monitor Twitter and other social media networks for breaking news or general conversations in your subject area using tools such as TweetDeck. Understand and use hashtags.

2. You are in control. Don’t become a slave to technology, make it your slave instead. You will need to develop strategies to cope with information overload – filter, filter, filter!

3. You are a curator. Like it or not, part of your role will eventually be to aggregate content (but not indiscriminately). You will need to gather, interpret and archive material from around the web using tools like Publish2, Delicious and StumbleUpon. As Publish2 puts it: “Help your readers get news from social media. More signal. Less noise.”

4. Your beat will be online and you will be the community builder. Creating communities and maintaining their attention will increasingly be down to the efforts of individual journalists; you may no longer be able to rely on your employer’s brand to attract reader loyalty in a fickle and rapidly changing online world (see 7).

5. Core journalistic skills are still crucial. You can acquire as many multimedia and programming skills as you want, but if you are unable to tell a story in an accurate and compelling way, no one will want to consume your content.

6. Journalism needs a business model. If you don’t understand business, especially the business you work for, then it’s time to wake up. The reality for most journalists is that they can no longer exist in a vacuum, as if what they do in their profession is somehow disconnected from the commercial enterprise that pays their wages (one side effect of journalists’ attempts to ‘professionalise’ themselves, according to Robert G Picard). That does not mean compromising journalistic integrity, or turning into solo entrepreneurs; rather it means gaining an understanding of the business they are in and playing a part in moving it forward.

As former Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves said in his excellent speech to Warwick Business School last year: “You cannot be an editor in today’s media environment without also being a businessman. It might say editor on my business card, but really, I am in the business of making news profitable and budgets, targets and performance are as important to me as words and newsprint.”

OK, you may not be an editor yet but that is no excuse, and it is probably easier to innovate while you are still working on the coalface without managerial responsibilities. Plus, in some cases, your editor may be part of the problem.

7. You are your own brand – brand yourself online! I’m not talking bylines here – you need to build yourself an online persona, one that earns you a reputation of trustworthiness and one that allows you to build fruitful relationships with your readers and contacts. You can no longer necessarily rely on having a good reputation by proxy of association with your employer’s brand. And your reputation is no longer fleeting, as good as your last big story – there is an entire archive of your content building online that anyone can potentially access.

Obvious ways to do this: Twitter, Facebook, personal blogging, but you can also build a reputation by sharing what you are reading online using social bookmarking sites like Publish2 and delicious (see 3).

8. You need to collaborate! Mashable suggests seven ways news organisations could become more collaborative outside of their own organisations, but this could also mean working with other journalists in your own organisation on, for example, multimedia projects as MultimediaShooter suggests or hook up with other journalists from other publications as Adam Westbrook suggests to learn and share new ideas.

9. Stories do not have to end once they are published online. Don’t be afraid to revise and evolve a story or feature published online, but do it transparently – show the revisions. And don’t bury mistakes; the pressure to publish quickly can lead to mistakes but if you admit them honestly and openly you can only gain the respect of your readers.

10. Technology is unavoidable, but it is nothing to fear and anyone of any age can master the basics. If you do nothing else, set up a WordPress blog and experiment with different templates and plugins – I promise you will be amazed at what you can achieve and what you can learn in the process.

    Learn more practical advice on the future of journalism at our news:rewired event at City University in London on 14 January 2010.

    50 thoughts on “Ten things every journalist should know in 2010

    1. Pingback: Ten things every journalist should know in 2009 | Journalism.co.uk Editors' Blog

    2. Stefan

      Interesting article, not least because none of the above have anything to do with your actual journalism, but everything to do with building a particular journalist as a saleable brand. Oh dear.

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    4. Klaus Bardenhagen

      Hmm, let’s see…

      – Journalistic skills – sure hope so
      – Own brand (taiwanreporter.com) – check
      – WordPress blog (taipeh.wordpress.com) – check (It’s German.)
      – Twitter (taiwanreporter) – check
      – Facebook… may I be the last person not to be there? Will change soon!
      – “You are in control” – Sometimes I feel like I am not even in control of my accounts’ passwords anymore.

      But thanks for the encouraging words!

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    7. Erik Gable

      @Stefan: Really? Seems to me that while #7 is about marketing yourself and building a brand, and #10 is about training yourself in new skill sets, the other eight are all directly related to the practice of journalism as a craft.

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    9. John Thompson Post author

      @Erik @Stefan #7 is not just about marketing yourself – “you need to build yourself an online persona, one that earns you a reputation of trustworthiness and one that allows you to build fruitful relationships with your readers and contacts”.

      Familiarising yourself with a platform like WordPress (#10) is not just about learning some technical skills either. The real value is in experimenting with different plugins to better market your posts online and to engage your readers.

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    13. Sarosh Motivala

      Great post. These ideas apply not just for journalists, but for information communicators in the sciences, health care and other service professions.

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    17. jloome

      An interesting post. Again, as several have indicated, this is not so much about journalism and the craft as it is about remaining viable in a world that no longer sees — or allows — the value of such a craft.

      This is “marketing yourself, 101”, not, “how to be a better journalist.”

      Using new media to do your job isn’t “how to be be a better journalist,” it’s “how to be a journalist, period.” It’s a given, and the mere fact that you feel you have to lay out methods of sourcing here to people using new tech goes a long way to explaining the shortcomings of modern reporting (and, in truth, probably the bulk of reporters for decades.)

      It should be a given that journalists adapt and adopt. We’re supposed to be learning new things all the time. We’re supposed to be contacting and adapting new sources all the time.

      And, while conveyance of the message after the fact is obviously essential, you’ll learn 10 times as much about getting the information in the first place from existing sources on reporting (Eric Nalder’s notes on investigative reporting and William Blundell’s system of questioning outlined in ‘The Art and Craft of Feature Writing’ both come to mind.

      What shouldn’t be a given is acquiescing, as the author does here, to the “new reality.”

      Here’s another idea: change the reality.

      Maybe the best approach IS going solo, if it gets you out from under the thumb of a media that values speed over content.

      Or perhaps the best approach is to go to those organizations you know will recognize the need for a properly craft, informative press, and trying to set up your own organization using a non-profit model, much like public television and radio.

      There are far better options than merely staying positive and going with the flow, at least if you have self-respect, dignity and a sense of purpose to what you do. Plus, there’s more common sense in it, unless you eventually want to be boiled down by your owners to the lowest, most-profitable common denominator.

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    43. Melanie

      To Point 4: It is no so easy at it seems. I am not a journalist. But I know from my Blog website that this is a very hard way. First step is to found some people who can read your stories. Maybe you have good and intersting informaitons for the reader – but nobody knows about you and your online-project. Building a reading communitie is in my point of view the hardest step!

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    45. David McCaine

      I think that during 2011 that more people will try to ‘get things done’ at a local level, driven purely from a belt tightening perspective and a general need to economise. I also thing that the traditional model of, when someone needs something, people approach other people and asking for a price will change. Increasing those with the cash will decide what they’re willing to pay and get potential service providers, as it were, to approach them. OK, this is leading to me mentioning a social enterprise that’s started around the corner from where my girlfriend lives: http://www.taskedo.com has so far been getting a lot of mentions on blogs and some local press coverage..but the momentum is really building locally on this with it truly being the buzz of the village and surrounds. I’m amazed that none of teh nationals have run anything on it yet, it’s definetely worth a look. D

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