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Recruiting the right kid: skills, attitudes
include accuracy, credibility, handling stress

by Candace Bowen, MJE
Each semester, when I ask my freshman newswriting students at Kent State University why they chose a journalism/media major, the answers are often a little frightening. They say, for instance, “I like to write,” “I have always done well in English class” or “I want to meet important people and report from the red carpet.”

Well….maybe those are the basis for their choice, but some of these might be detrimental or at the very least misguided. Are we as teachers sometimes missing those with other skills and attitudes that would make them great journalists – on our student media and in the future? Are we recruiting the right kid

What do you need to be a journalist in today’s world of fake news, reduced reporting staffs and downright hostility towards the profession? What should you look for in your students when they ask your opinion about their future as journalists?

A few years ago, The Poynter Institute produced a research report titled “Core Skills for the 21st Century Journalist,” and, to do this, surveyed 2,000 media professionals and educators about 37 attributes or skills journalists should have.

Although some changes have occurred in the profession during the last three years – fewer copyeditors in many newsrooms comes to mind, perhaps calling for stronger grammar skills for reporters – much of this list is probably still accurate.

Co-author of the study, Howard Finberg, analyzed the results in an article on the Poynter website, noting, among other things, striking differences between media professionals and educators when it comes to specific multimedia skills such as recording and editing audio. (They said they would rather teach them the hands-on types of skills if they have the other abilities.)

“Storytelling,” too, didn’t even make the top 10 for the pros.

But “handle stress and deadlines well” was missing from the educators’ list. That’s one I find so vital in my “newbie” reporters. When they have several assignments overlapping, even though they know the deadlines, they complain they should only be expected to handle stories one at a time. (Sorry, that’s not how it happens in the real world.)

According to Professionals:

  • Accuracy (99%)
  • Curiosity (93%)
  • Write using correct grammar (93%)
  • Handle stress and deadlines well (93%)
  • Have good news judgment (92%)
  • Select information based on reliability (92%)
  • Network, make contacts and develop sources (91%)
  • Be acquainted with journalism ethics (90%)
  • Write in fluent style (89%)
  • Have knowledge of current events (88%)

According to Educators:

  • Accuracy (99%)
  • Curiosity (98%)
  • Select information based on reliability (96%)
  • Write using correct grammar (96%)
  • Be acquainted with journalism ethics (96%)
  • Have knowledge of current events (95%)
  • Master interview techniques (95%)
  • Have good news judgment (95%)
  • Network, make contacts and develop sources (94%)
  • Storytelling (93%)

Are there jobs for those we recruit? Reports say yes, though not always in the traditional legacy media of the past. Poynter’s Al Tompkins published an article in January 2017 that shared new graduates’ views of their futures – and why they wanted to be journalists. In “Why new journalism grads are optimistic about 2017,” Tompkins said, “Every student I spoke with said their main motivation for being a journalist is ‘to make a difference.’”

Let’s try to do what we can to steer the right potential journalists into the field – the ones who know what they will be doing matters, the ones who are concerned with accuracy and credibility and who can handle stress and deadlines well.

Yes, there is room for young journalists in the field.

And we certainly need them now perhaps more than ever.

 

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