Traditional vs. New: Essential Skills Journalism Students Need to Learn Now

Skills Journalism Students Need

Breaking into journalism post-college can feel daunting.

On top of first-job jitters, there are a host of new skills that need to be learned in order to succeed in a now digital-heavy industry.

Earlier this month, we hosted our latest #ConnectChat, “Skills Journalism Students Need to Learn,” with our guest Kelley Callaway, president of the College Media Association and director of student publications at Rice University.

Callaway discussed the importance of knowing social media, what media outlets are looking for in job candidates, professional newsrooms compared to student media and a lot of other topics student journalists need to learn.

In case you missed our chat, check out the recap below. We also included tweets from #ConnectChat participants who gave helpful information on the subject.

What are the biggest misconceptions students have about working in a professional newsroom?

The amount of work involved. Working on multiple projects at a time. Importance of actually meeting deadlines.

Do many think the real world is like a college newsroom?

I hope they don’t! I think most college journalists expect the professional world to be harder than college.

@comminternships: Journalism is definitely a complex skills set that requires hands-on practice to master. You can’t learn it from a book.

Besides professional skills, what about actual interviewing skills for when they’re looking for a job?

Students need to learn how to talk positively about themselves when they are being interviewed. They also need to do a lot of research about the company they are hoping to work for. They also need to be able to articulate their vision and how they think they can achieve that vision while contributing.

skills journalism students need to learn

@chuckmoran7: For journalism students, I recommend finding a good mentor too. Find someone who can help guide you as you enter a newsroom.

@dailysuitcase: Key for interviews – ask questions. Even though employer is interviewing you, don’t make it all about you. Be engaged and ask away.

What’s the reality with regards to workload in a professional newsroom?

There’s definitely more work in the professional world, but you don’t have class anymore! So learn to multitask in college.

@comminternships: Newsrooms across the board are evolving at a rapid rate. Your skills set must be more diverse than ever to stand out.

Are all students expected to be well-versed in social media?

Oh, heck, yeah! Not only should they be well-versed, they should be able to predict the next big thing. Employers look to students and recent grads for technical know-how, social media savvy. Employers want young people to have fresh ideas and out-of-the-box thinking so students have to develop these skills.

Should students have social media accounts and is basic knowledge enough these days?

Yes, but they need to manage them well. Avoid politics, etc. Realize they brand themselves through social media. They need to manage multiple accounts. Not just the most popular. Learn how to tell stories through Snapchat, brand their pub through Instagram. Go beyond the obvious. Yes! The more they know, the more marketable they are!

@comminternships: Social media skills are vital. Not just current platforms, but students need to be able to identify the next big thing. Students should understand SEO, tagging, Ad Words, analytics, pretty much all web metrics.

@chuckmoran7: Twitter for example is a good tool to follow sources and engage readers.

Some of our guests have mentioned writing and grammar skills. If these skills aren’t as strong as they should be can they still get a job in a newsroom?

@comminternships: Skills numbers one and two: Excellent written and oral communications skills, which means impeccable grammar skills.

@chuckmoran7: Important skills – highly recommend listening skills and research skills for those just getting started.

They can in college, but it’s going to be much harder in the professional world. As professional newsrooms shrink and pros are asked to do more with less, new professionals need to be prepared from day one.

What other things should students be proficient in as they start looking for their first job? What do future employers want to see?

Employers want to see applicants that have stepped outside their comfort zones. They need to do a little bit of everything. Writers need to shoot video. Broadcasters need to write. Need to understand the business side. Need to understand marketing.

@comminternships: Employers want tech skills, yes, but you must still be able to tell a compelling story. That’s a top skill many students lack.

@chuckmoran7: Outside of skills they need to be open to moving to get that first job & probably not be paid as much as they’d like.

@dailysuitcase: They should also know how to do original reporting…and not just tracking things down on the Internet.

We know from reports like Poynter’s “Core Skills for the Future of Journalism” that there’s a gap between what media professionals and college professors think are the most important journalism skills for students to learn. I’m interested in hearing from folks about how they respond to students who reject feedback from either party (pros or faculty), claiming one or the other is “right,” and who we might try to reconcile the differences.

We need to expose students to different viewpoints. Both sides are right. There is great value in learning the basics and traditions of good journalism. And students need to be aware of what employers are looking for. But they also need to love media for media’s sake. Not just a grade or a paycheck.

Can you tell us about the College Media Convention in New York? When is it? 

It’s a great place to learn or hone all the skills we’ve been talking about. It’s March 12-15, and it’s fabulous. 200 sessions. One Day Innovation Challenge. Film Festival. On-site contests and critiques.

Who should attend?

Everyone! Especially the future leaders of student media outlets. It’s a great place to get energized for the next school year.

How can you register for the conference?

You can register for the spring convention in New York at

CMA is all about serving advisers and their students. We also offer summer training.

Do internships really offer the best view of reality or is there another way journalism students can see what the real world is like?

If a student wants to pursue media professionally, they really need to work for collegiate media. They need to learn more than what is taught in a classroom. Journalism is about doing it. Internships are an excellent step in exposure, but it all depends on the media and the people overseeing the internship. Internships allow students to make contacts and get a taste of professional experience. Student media gives them ownership and a chance to try new things (and fail in a relatively safe environment).

@chuckmoran7: Internships, yes where available. Part-time and stringer work also helps build experience. Students need to think mobile in learning how to be a journalist.

With video being a huge part of all outlets, should students learn how to edit video and know about editing programs?

Absolutely! Students need to at least be able to shoot and edit a simple video. The more skills they acquire, the better. Verify sources. Question everything. Try to talk to folks in person.

What about digital newsgathering?

Students need to learn how to gather news in every fashion possible. And the same care needs to go into that.

Is knowledge of the political system and of the various agencies (local, state, etc.) necessary?

They need to do learn those same things in the professional world. Attend meetings. Read the laws. Talk to the lawmakers.

[Don’t miss the next #ConnectChat: PR Newswire’s @ProfNet hosts a Twitter Q&A every other Tuesday between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. ET.] 

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Evelyn Tipacti is a audience relations specialist at ProfNet. She is a former broadcast journalist with years of experience behind the television camera and radio mic.

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