WiJ seminar report: How to thrive in a digital world – By Alexandra Campbell

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Digital media has created a host of new jobs, roles and outlets for journalists – but what are they, and what skills do you need to succeed? Read the top 16 tips from the experts at WIJ’s Thrive in the Digital World seminar on Oct 9th at Wiggin LLP.

DSC_0133The panellists were:

*Jemima Kiss, Head of Technology at the Guardian (@jemimakiss),

*Lucia Adams until recently deputy head of digital at The Times and the Sunday Times, now Head of Pictures (@lucia_adams),

*Sally Foote founder of febdigital.co.uk, a consultancy that helps organisations make better digital products and reach audiences faster (@sallyfoote),

* Jennifer Howze, co-founder of BritMums, Britain’s biggest collective of bloggers and social influencers (@jhowze),

* Helen Lewis deputy editor New Statesman, blogger and WIJ deputy chair (@helenlewis)

* Sarah O’Connor Financial Times economics correspondent, current British Press Awards  business and finance journalist of the year (@sarahoconnor)


1)      The business model of how journalism makes money is under strain: the majority of readers are online, but the majority of the revenue – although it’s falling – still comes from print editions (advertisements/subscriptions).

2)      You need to work fast: In the days of print-only, an editor might commission a comment piece on Wednesday for publication on Thursday or even at the weekend. Now a comment piece has to be turned round in about one and a half hours. This puts freelances at a disadvantage as there may not be time to pitch.

3)       You need to manage conflicting needs and timetables: be aware of the conflicting needs and speeds of the print and digital editions – it can be exhausting for journalists

4)      Think about how a story would work in video or podcast – not just as a written article. The microphones and cameras on Iphones and Ipads are now broadcast quality so you may not need extra equipment.

5)      Platforms are changing fast, so keep your attitude flexible: You don’t need to be an expert in every platform. But be prepared to have a go at something new when it crops up. Never think ‘I’ve learned everything I need to learn – I can’t take yet another new thing on.’

6)      Twitter is currently the best social media for journalists:

a)      It’s a great source of stories and case histories. Use the search engine to find people tweeting on the subject you are writing about.

b)      When you pitch a story to an editor, they often check your Twitter account out first. Make sure your bio has links to your best work. Always have a photo and make sure your bio sells your work.

c)       Tweet the same story with different tweets at different times to see which works best.

7)      Reddit is another good source for journalists – find specialist topics and interviewees.

8)      Facebook is probably better used for your personal life. So keep your privacy controls tight.

9)      The skills needed in journalism today include the ability to curate, and to reach out to bloggers who really know their audiences.

10)   If you have basic web building skills, you’ll increase your chances of getting a job. The communication between the journalists and the technical department is often tricky, so a journalist who can talk to the tekkies and understand their parameters can mean a significantly better product.

11)   Data journalism is sought-after. If you’re good at reading, researching and analysing data and seeing the story in the figures, there’s great potential in this area.

12)   New job titles include ‘digital audience editor’. This is curating the social media feeds (such as Facebook and Twitter), writing headlines for it, etcetera.

13)   Brands are all looking to increase their online presence. Reach out to them – in the past corporate communications was company-driven or aimed at sales, now it’s now about engagement and entertainment.

14)   Find yourself an unusual niche. As well as your main job, many digital journalists thrive by having a slightly weird specialist interest, and promoting it online.

15)   There’s a growth in ‘long-form journalism’ online. Today’s newspapers and magazines don’t have the space for long articles, and most online stories are short, too, but there’s a resurgence of interest in in-depth features of 1500 words or more. Not many people write well at this length, so get some practice in, even if it means writing for little or no money at first. Good ‘long-form’ online outlets include the New Yorker and the New Statesmen, or look at Creativenonfiction.org, BritMums.com, themediabriefing.com and medium.com

16)   The skill no longer needed is the art of the cryptic, witty headline. Headlines are vital for search engines so they need to be clear, concise and tell the story.

Author and journalist Alexandra Campbell teaches blogging and writing, one-to-one or in workshops, in London, Kent or by Skype. Contact her on 07976 222834 or alexandra@writetopromote.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @WriteToPromote