Making yourself marketable in journalism today

The Southeast Michigan Community Media Lab is located at 215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti at SPARK-East. It's a free resource for journalists, students and the public.

The Southeast Michigan Community Media Lab is located at 215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti at SPARK-East. It’s a free resource for journalists, students and the public.

A reporter I had hired to cover sports and write news a few years ago — but who then left for another media company — contacted me last week and wanted to meet. I knew he had been laid off from the company he had left for, but he had rebounded and was hired by a daily near his home. I assumed he wanted to visit me at the Southeast Michigan Media Lab to learn some new skills he could apply in his relatively new position.

I was surprised, however, when he told me that after just a few months he had been laid off from the second company. I shouldn’t have been too surprised, though, given the state of the industry and after going through our parent company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy (twice). Since emerging from bankruptcy, the company I work for has been working hard to change the culture of our newsrooms, encouraging reporters to embrace digital media and the tools that can generate content to complement their storytelling while helping to share it with a wider audience. But not all companies have been as successful, including, I suspect, the two that had let go of this reporter, as he told me that neither was using social media and digital media tools to the extent we and other leading media companies were.

As we talked, I saw that he wasn’t there to learn as much as he was there to network. He was checking in to let me know he was back on the market and wanted to know if I knew of any job openings in the industry. So, I pointed him toward the Facebook group DFMjournalismcareers and took a look at his resume. The first thing I told him was to ditch the traditional printed resume and copies of his clips, and set up an account at Pressfolio, as it’s made especially for journalists. It’s a nicely designed site that’s easy to navigate. It aggregates all of your clips and you can view it by “section,” such as breaking news, sports, features, and include page design, video and other work. There’s an “about” section and a “skills” section similar to LinkedIn, as well. Its “featured” selection reminds me of the same functionality that I use on Meetup.com to highlight an upcoming workshop.

I also advised the reporter to immediately dump the old flip phone in favor of a smartphone. Every journalist, I told him, has to have a smartphone. In today’s world, it’s more essential than a reporter’s notebook and pen, as it will connect you in real time with your readers, and — bonus — you can take notes with it, and record audio and video.

Until I got my iPhone in 2010, I had no idea what I was missing. Using free apps, I can capture audio for an immediate post on my phonecasting channel at ipadio.com and share videos in real time using Tout and my social media channels to distribute breaking news from the scene. Live tweeting an event, court proceedings and government meetings has become standard practice, just like sharing updates, links and crowdsourcing on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. We use Instagram and Pinterest to share photos, and there’s ScribbleLive to update a live blog and uStream to livestream video from a remote location.

Let’s not forget Google Maps to ensure we don’t get lost while driving to the scene of a breaking news story or interview, and the weather app to report on a weather event or check whether you should bring your umbrella. There are a lot more, and I encourage people reading this post to share their favorite apps in the comments section.

At the end of our conversation, I had hoped I got through to this reporter. To be marketable in the field of journalism today you have to be social media and tech savvy. You must master the social media and digital media tools that will aid in your reporting and set you apart from the pack of other laid-off journalists looking for work. Having those skills also will make you competitive with the journalism school graduates who have embraced many of these tools while growing up and those skills have become second nature to them.

This journalist has the reporting chops and source-building skills necessary to succeed. Those are always at the top of any publisher or editor’s list when filling open positions. But if you haven’t figured out how to share video, photos, text or audio from the scene of a breaking news story or crowdsource information using social media, you’re sunk.

Practice makes perfect, I reminded the reporter, so get out there and start playing with some of these tools. Take control of your destiny and grow in this ever-evolving field so that you can continue to do what you love.

Before we parted ways, I handed him a flier listing all of our free workshops he can take advantage of at the media lab to learn some of these skills, and I encouraged him to return for individual instruction, also free. The next workshop is “Using social media to engage your audience,” and it will be taught by Eastern Michigan University professor Gina Luttrell.

Now, let’s see if he shows up.

I am crossing my fingers — and toes.

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