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How to Fill the Skill Gaps - 4/27/2016 -

How to Fill the Skill Gaps

An association web content developer says many new graduates lack in-depth knowledge and experience in modern journalism. The answer? Save your red pens and guide your new hires into continuous education instead.

By Tyler Gaskill

After a publication brings on a new hire, growing pains are expected. Entering a new production cycle is like sitting in a parked car that’s suddenly picked up by a crane and dropped onto a busy highway: Hit the gas, adapt to the flow of traffic, and try not to cause any accidents.

Your association’s new college-grad hires are being dropped onto that speeding highway after just passing a driver’s test. And they’re going to have to learn from a few fender benders.

Journalism graduates don’t necessarily lack one particular skill, says Dan Polley, who served as the web producer and social media director for Journal Community Publishing Group in Wisconsin before joining the American Society for Quality (ASQ) as a web content developer. He sees today’s graduates lacking in-depth knowledge and experience in many areas of modern journalism.

"They might enter the workforce with a base of knowledge on video editing and production, and some social media experience,” Polley says. "But then they lack a basic understanding of HTML and other web code, or basic design principles. Or maybe they never shot photographs or video in their prior work. These examples are particularly evident in many smaller journalism jobs that require a mix of design, editing, and reporting.”

Rather than teaching your new journalists by exhausting the association’s storeroom of red pens, encourage them to seek continuing education programs to help fill their skill gaps. And emphasize that college was the start — not the end — of their education.

Poynter’s News University is a useful online media and journalism training program. It has more than 300 topics to choose from. Many of its courses are free or under $50. They’re available in formats such as self-paced courses, webinars, or video tutorials.

Lynsey Hart, ASQ’s newsletter editor and a 2013 college graduate, has taken many Poynter courses and appreciates its wide range of topics. "I’m taking How to Edit Marketing Materials with Savvy and Sense to learn how to better maintain brand standards, tone, and voice in my editing process.”

Poynter also has courses on topics that delve into technical elements of publishing — such as photojournalism, video production, design and graphics — and others that are geared toward social media, marketing, or branding.

To keep pace with today’s evolving journalism landscape, Polley feels new journalists should focus on enhancing their skills in technical areas, such as photography, design, code, social media, or videography. "When there are new, popular social networks — or new trends like GoPro videos or podcasting — try them,” he says. "Think about how you could use them.”

Many community colleges offer non-degree programs in these areas. And they can be much cheaper than university courses. For example, in Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Area Technical College charges about $450 for its TV and Video Production Co-Op course. While the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a public university, charges state residents over $600 for a one-credit summer course.

Recent graduates also might be hit with a cold bucket of water after they realize their new jobs entail more than just reporting and editing. They also might have duties such as monitoring and analyzing Google Analytics data or some form of revenue reporting, which someone else handled at their campus newspapers. Or, they might need to know how to make a business case for why their organization should take up their ideas.

"In journalism school, you’re sort of in this bubble that makes you think everyone understands the importance of things like social media, responsive design, and not using comic sans font,” Hart says. "But that bubble pops very quickly when you enter the real world. It’s important that you can back these ideas up with hard numbers. At the very least, you should be able to prepare a basic business document to support spending five hours a week on Twitter, or a couple thousand dollars on a new web design or platform.”

These types of reports also could require a firm understanding of Excel. There are a lot options for Excel training, but don’t forget that YouTube and Google searches can yield quick answers to your cell-formula and graph-creation quandaries. And Excelexposure.com offers free training guides and videos.

"There are quite a few things I want to learn that I didn’t have a chance to cover in journalism school: coding, data analysis, and another foreign language,” Hart says. "There are so many things you can learn, and the field is so competitive that you must keep improving.”

A report by Poynter and the Knight Foundation, "Constant Training: New Normal or Missed Opportunity,” explained that the seemingly exponential changes of the digital-age are happening faster than training is becoming available, pointing out, "In today’s world, no one is ever fully trained.”

Tyler Gaskill is assistant editor, Quality Progress, published by ASQ.

Consider filling your own skill gaps by attending Association Media & Publishing Annual Meeting this June. Early Bird rates end April 30th!

And exhibiting vendors and service suppliers — don’t forget, you get two full conference registrations with your booth reservation. Contact sales@associationmediaandpublishing.org


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