Getting journalism on-line

CAREER

A DIFFERENT LEAGUE: Educators must be aware that in Web journalism, students should know basic web coding skills. DH File photo

The traditional J-school approach, which teaches you to have a single skill set that fits into a larger organisation, does not cut any ice in the world of journalism today. With recession cutting back the frills in publishing houses, jobs for a single skill set are gone.

Every journalist needs multiple skill sets, to be in a sense, their own publisher. And writing for the Web is a ‘must have’ skill, which educators and J-schools must look at seriously and impart to their students.

The regular words to describe a good journalist could be ingenuity, creativity, versatility and flexibility, but J-schools have to look beyond these old-fashioned, narrow confines and view the possibilities open to a journalist today. One lucrative area today is Web Journalism. J-schools need to look at the world of online journalism and the huge potential there for their students, with a keener eye.

Like any other journalist, a web journalist’s attitude counts for a lot. The basic education remains the same where, the student’s curiosity and desire to tell the story should be paramount. Every visual journalist should know how to write a basic story in an inverted pyramid form, and shoot and edit a video that tells a complete story besides shooting great images with even just a cell phone. The web journalist needs to be taught to realise it all has to be turned out fast, that time is of the essence and he/she must get the information comprehensively, to where it needs to go online.

Web coding
Educators must be aware that in Web journalism, student journalists should know some basic Web coding skills. Basic HTML will allow a photojournalist to add tags in video players and embed photos and videos in blog posts. Even though the newsroom content management system (CMS) shields the journalists from most of the code, sometimes there are workarounds in the CMS and if you have a basic knowledge of HTML, you can use them.

Also, that way of thinking helps you understand what’s possible online and how to take advantage of the tools that are out there. Student journalists must be taught not to be afraid of HTML. J-schools should also teach students about the potential for innovative coding, as journalists who know how to code will find more opportunities than others.

Almost no one in a newsroom has these skills today, but they are needed by the Web journalist.

Educators can’t really teach the student mastery of the tools. Like any thing else in life, they have to do it over and over again and build confidence. Finally the only way to feel truly comfortable with the tools is to use them a lot. That is what a good teacher gets across to his/her student.

Beyond knowing how to use the tools, J-schools must teach student journalists how to be able to assess whether a particular story will work well or badly in different formats. A story that has compelling people can make a perfect audio slideshow or video for the web, if you can get them in an interview. But that interview is going to be different from an interview conducted for print. The skills in storytelling and the use of the tools go hand in glove. Students will be inexperienced at both, so they’ll simply have to learn both at the same time.

So, this article wants to make one thing really clear: There is no place in the newsroom for a photojournalist who doesn’t also report, write detailed captions, file copy from the field, and work on the Web. I firmly believe there will be no more just reporters or just photographers. We all need to have crossover skills. The Web demands it.

For web writing
* Write for easy reading
* Think first, then write
* Get to the point
* Use familiar words
* Keep your sentences short
* Shorten your paragraphs
* Be specific and concrete
* Be optimistic
* Use active voice
* Use adjectives sparingly
* Revise and sharpen
* Be restrained
* Write to express not to
   impress
* Prefer the simple to the
   complex

(The writer is adjunct faculty at St. Joseph's College, Christ University and COMMITS.)

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