Meredith Artley, Vice President and Managing Editor of CNN Digital, discusses what she’s looking for when hiring digital journalists in Nieman Lab’s series evaluating j-schools. Two of Artley’s most important insights:
1. Know the industry and have a dialogue during your interview.
The main mistake I see recent college grads make in interviews — and sometimes not-so-recent grads as well — is an expectation of a one-way conversation. I’ve seen candidates with strong resumes who haven’t appeared to have done their homework or haven’t come with their own questions. It could be anything — tell me something you like or don’t like about CNN, ask me to describe the culture of the newsroom, share an observation about a competitor. Just don’t expect a passive experience where we ask the questions, then you supply answers and wait for the next question. I’ve always seen interviews as an opportunity for a conversation, and to learn if it’s a right fit for both parties, no matter what side of the table I’m on.
2. Coding is a hot skill but know your beat too.
Skill-wise, people who have the killer journalist/coder combo have been a hot commodity for some time. But those candidates now are becoming easier to find thanks to schools evolving their programs by melding programming and journalism courses, and people who learn interactive reporting skills on the job.
It’s getting harder to find specialists in certain beats. There are generalists galore. A broad curiosity about the world is a good prerequisite for landing a job in journalism, but the resumes that show specialized interest and experience in a beat or topic are increasingly rare and precious — health, foreign affairs, science, education, religion, to name a few.
FJP: Not everyone would agree that enough journalists know how to code, though. Miranda Mulligan, executive director of Northwestern University’s Knight News Innovation Lab, encourages a re-vamping of j-school curricula.
We need to innovate our curricula, really looking at what we are teaching our students. Learning, or mastering, specific software is not properly preparing our future journalists for successful, life-long careers. No one can learn digital storytelling in a semester. Mastering Dreamweaver and Flash isn’t very future-friendly, and having a single mid-level “Online Journalism” course offered as an elective does more harm than good. We should be teaching code in all of our journalism courses — each semester, each year, until graduation.
Marzorati argued that the Internet has not shortened readers’ attention spans, and that the audience for long-form journalism is large, enthusiastic, and happy to read long pieces that are actually long. And that’s a trend that’s been on the rise: During the tenure of Jack Rosenthal in the ’90s, Marzorati noted, cover stories at the Times Magazine actually grew from an average of 4,000 to 5,000 words to at least 8,000 words.* For him, the crisis of the form isn’t the audience, but the expense: Who is going to pay for the necessary months of reporting, fact-checking, and editing — not to mention the legal protection that intensive pieces often require?
A hive of long-form journalists: Gerry Marzorati and Mark Danner on a new model for long form
Unique and quality content trump everything online. I agree that there is a future for long-form journalism on the web.
With news websites serving as wire agencies 2.0, however, breaking news stories are often given priority over in-depth materials.
It is both an editorial and reportorial issue.
Online editors can only work with the materials they have in their hands.
Given the fact-paced form of online journalism, a reporter would prefer to work with 3 short-form articles that can be published in two hours than, let us say, invest time and effort on a single, 8,000-word piece that would need a week of legwork.
Maybe management can invest on personnel whose main focus is primarily long-form stories. I am using the word investment, as I assume that long-form stories will mean more page views and ad clickthroughs.