Young Journalists Must Be Versatile and Flexible in Today's Job Market

Teacher helping journalism student in classroom
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Years ago, if a reporter knew how to gather information and bang out a news story on deadline he'd be good to go. With the transition from typewriters to computers in newsrooms in the 1980s, things got a little more complicated, but even the most technically clueless reporters managed to figured out how to write their stories using a word processor.

But in the age of digital journalism, versatility, and its sister attribute, flexibility, are more important than ever.

The more skills you have - specifically, technical skills - and the more flexible you are about where you work and the kind of job you're willing to do, the better.

Versatility

Versatility in this context means having as many skills as possible to help you succeed. This includes being able to shoot and edit digital photos and video, blogging, webpage creation, page layout – that you can acquire to make yourself more marketable.

Versatility also means being adept with social media - namely Facebook and Twitter - to help you get information from sources and spread the word about the stories you do.

But in a broader sense, versatility is about more than just technical skills. It’s about being open to new challenges and being open-minded about the changing nature of the news business in general. It means understanding - and accepting - that the news business is very different today compared to just five years ago, and that it will be even more different five years from now.

Change, in other words, is the name of the game right now. Being versatile means being ready to meet the challenges that change brings.

Flexibility

Flexibility in this context has several meanings. In the broadest sense it means understanding that the journalism career you end up having may be very different from the one you had planned.

For instance, you may have dreamed of a career as a writer for a big magazine or metro newspaper. But with print journalism in decline, you may find yourself working at a website instead. Or you may dream of being a photojournalist but find yourself doing layout and graphic design.

In other words, your first, second and even third job in journalism may not be your dream job. But being flexible also means being open to the possibility that your dream job may end up being one you never dreamed you’d be doing.

Geographic Flexibility

Geographic flexibility is also important. You may dream of working in New York City or Washington, D.C. But if jobs are scarce in the Big Apple and the nation’s capital, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Likewise, you may tell yourself that you can never leave your hometown and the family and friends you have there. But to be realistic you must understand that journalism can be a transient profession, and that in the end you have to go where the jobs are.

Of course, reporting and writing remain the core skills of journalism. All the technical skills in the world won't make you a real reporter; after all, there are lots of tech wizards out there who don't know the first thing about being a journalist.

So the challenge for an aspiring journalist today is to be a top-notch reporter and writer first, then combine that with the ability to use digital tools to break news and tell stories.

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