Digital Natives, Not-So-Much: What You Need to Get Hired In Memphis News

I talked to The Commercial Appeal’s Director of Digital Media Michael Erskine about the kinds of skills he looks for when hiring journalists for a newsroom on the brink of a reorganization tailored to help it become *truly* digital first and provide content tailored for news consumption on multiple platforms throughout the day.Image

Not surprisingly, digital skills are a vital addition to always important traditional reporting and writing acumen, Erskine said, including crafting SEO-friendly headlines and web-friendly stories, knowing how to use social media to both promote and report stories, and more.

None of this is exactly breaking news to the web-savvy, but Erskine confirmed what journalism professors also know only too well: So-called “digital natives” may have been immersed in digital media from a young age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are tech savvy; students need to work hard to build those skills and get as much experience as possible utilizing them while in college.

“There has been an assumption that younger folks have those [digital skills], and we have learned that is not true,” Erskine said. “Some do, but it is hard to keep them. They come here, and then they leave. Over the last couple of years, there has been an improvement, but it is not where it needs to be.”

As a recent job posting for a “content producer” position confirmed, The Commercial Appeal’s new hires need to have astute news judgment for a fast-paced digital publishing schedule, an ability to interpret and boost web metrics and audience, and multimedia, engagement and online community building skills.

Erksine is the first to admit that it can be a tall order to find an employee who excels at all these things.

“I think the job of a journalist is getting harder,” Erskine said. “It’s pretty daunting. You need to write, have news judgment, have digital skills. Your day as a reporter is more demanding,  busier and there are more expectations….I realize now that when I started as a reporter, I had it easy. In some ways what we are looking for today is a ‘super reporter’ that can do it all, and there aren’t that many of those out there.”

Of course, young journalists need to realize that despite the push to digital, it is still vital to master traditional skills and to pick up the phone to speak to and double check facts with sources.

“We have found that young people are actually over-reliant on tech and the Internet when it comes to this,” Erskine said. “They just grab something off of a website and don’t double check it.”

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Digital Natives, Not-So-Much: What You Need to Get Hired In Memphis News

  1. Can’t agree more with the last paragraph. The time-tested “old” journalism is still basis for good digital journalism. Digital tools can expand the reach of journalism, but the messenger is not the message.

  2. Michael Fuhlhage

    More and more journalism programs are adapting to the industry’s desire for “super reporters” who have news judgment, writing ability, digital skills and the ability to tell stories on multiple platforms. But are news organizations willing to pay for these extra skills that they demand? In other words, are employers having trouble finding people with these skills, or are they having trouble finding people with these skills who are willing to work for what they pay?

    • changingnewsroom

      I think there are some issues connected with pay, but from all that I hear, the starting salaries for a position like this at the CA are unofficially around 40-45 which is not frankly much less than I make as a professor with two graduate degrees. Smaller papers and TV stations have a salary problem but while I wouldn’t call these salaries lucrative when you look at the kinds of bonuses newspaper execs make, they aren’t per se terrible either.

      • changingnewsroom

        One problem in our department too is that we still strongly consider it to be part of our mission to prepare students for jobs at small rural news orgs in the South, where they really still need very traditional skill sets like basic newspaper layout and there is very little digital. This is fine, and I have nothing against working for one of those papers – great experience! – but if you really want to talk about pay, whew, that’s where it really gets ugly if you have some loans.

    • Michael is right to ask if part of the reason it’s hard to find a super-reporter is that the pay does not match the skills sought. Often it does not. There’s also the matter of demand: Journalists with a slate of skills such as Erskine described are in high demand because they are few and hard to find.

      Even more interesting: In many j-schools, it’s quite hard to find students who want to acquire those skills. Why is that?

  3. Pingback: Week 6.1: Audio, Framing, and Narrative | Victoria Says

  4. I totally agree that the actual tech skills of digital natives who take my classes (journalism, PR, and related) are, for the most park, weak to mediocre. For example, I’ve explained the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org three times and still have a majority of the students look at me like I’m speaking Russian. I even created a lecture to explain domain registration, web hosting and how WP fits into that structure as a content management system and no lightbulbs. Also struggling with buy-in to use HootSuite, Twitter lists for stream management. Those are just the easy challenges.

    Feeling frustrated as this semester winds down.

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