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.
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.”