Wanted: Required Web journalism skills

[Editor’s note: OJR welcomes USC’s Robert Hernandez, who will be writing for us on technology and journalism.

Also, a continuing reminder: We’re taking applications for the 2010 News Entrepreneur Boot Camp. Please consider applying if you’re looking for better training on how to make your online news publishing efforts an income-producing business.]

With our industry in such turmoil, the constant technological changes, the evolution of news consumers and the uncertainty of the future, the question on the minds of veteran and aspiring journalists alike is what skills do I need to stay relevant, employed and innovative.

That’s the number one question I have gotten over the years. (That and equipment recommendations.)

Everyone has an answer.

There have been pieces written recently saying journalists need to become programmers. Debates over how important Flash is to a reporter. I even remember speakers coming to my class when I was in college advising photographers to look for other careers because still photography, they incorrectly predicted, was dead.

Um, they are pretty much all wrong, in my humble-yet-cocky-sounding opinion.

“So, smart guy, what’s your genius answer,” you ask. Well, it’s the same one I gave some ten years ago.

Know journalism.

The top skills required for a Web journalist are solid news judgment, strong ethics, thrive under deadline, accuracy and a mastery of the AP Stylebook. Other skills I include are knowledge of HTML, experience with CMS, working understanding of SEO, being social in Social media and the willingness to try new technologies.

Plus, the ability to tell stories in all media: text, photos, audio, video and the combination. At the very least, know and respect each of these crafts and how they are used on the Web.

But again, the most important skill is journalism, not the latest technology.

While I’ve been preaching this for a while, some people don’t agree.

So, I did a test.

I took nearly two-dozen New Media job postings from journalismjobs.com and compiled a list of skills they were looking for… then I ran the list through Wordle to visualize the top requirements.

I’ll let the image speak for itself.

If you must know, here are the skills I collected:
HTML, Mac, PC, AP style, news judgment, copy editing, headline editing, organized, interact with online readers and newspaper staff, multitask on deadline, video and audio editing, improve site traffic trends, OAS, posting information, wire copy, photos, HTML, CSS, sports fan, Copy editing, headline writing, nights, holidays, weekends, accuracy, attention to detail, problem solving, Photoshop, deadlines, optimization, innovative editor, search engines, social networks, headline writing, Financial news editing experience, multimedia approach to Web content, video, graphics, photos, polls, social networking media, Four year college degree, TV/Web production, journalism, new media, Final Cut pro, Adobe Photoshop, Basic script and package writing skills, strong editorial judgment, strong time management skills, work independently, tight deadline, detail oriented, live and on-demand video production, think like a producer, editor, and writer, basic video editing, program production, edit raw video, headlines and descriptions, leadership, web based experience, multiple media, print headline writing and editing, grammar, spelling, punctuation, usage and style, multitasking, news judgment, accuracy, news on the Internet, news wires, coordinate assignment and development of stories, video and interactive, accuracy, timeliness, balance, comprehensiveness, multimedia, Traditional journalism skills, move beyond text to tell stories interactively, team player, design experience a plus, desktop computer applications, editorial content from television and print, accurate, collaborate with editors, write copy, create compelling headlines and captions, organize multimedia and make sound news judgments, strong news judgment, blogosphere, passion for sports, flexible, quick-thinking, energetic, efficient, and able to work independently under pressure, attention to detail, crafting clever headlines and tease copy, choosing and cropping appropriate images, packaging, editing, writing for the Web, headline writing, image selection, and content packaging skills, AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style, work quickly, breaking news, deadline pressure, Basic HTML, Photoshop, online publishing tools, news judgment, blogosphere, flexible, quick-thinking, energetic, efficient, crafting clever headlines and tease copy, choosing and cropping appropriate images, packaging, editing, and writing for the Web, headline writing, image selection, and content packaging skills, AP Stylebook and Chicago Manual of Style, HTML, Photoshop, online publishing tools, technology experience and connections, IT reporting, editing experience, sharp writing, editing, write SEO-friendly content, tease text, HTML, write quickly, breaking news, technology reporting and editing, editing stories, news writing, interviewing, computers, word processing, news judgment, editorial, creative skills, journalistic ethics, libel laws, write clearly, AP writing style, TV camera operator, video editor, Adobe Premier, Final Cut Pro, news judgment, social media, Twitter, Facebook, aggressive, hard-working editor, multi-media reporting, social media, communication, organizational, multitask, multimedia production, editorial experience in print, online or broadcast, leadership, teamwork, interpersonal, under pressure, tight deadlines, problem solve, Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, WordPress, content management systems, write, produce and post content, news editorial, AP style, Accuracy, Deadline-oriented, organized, multi-tasking, I-News, HTML, Adobe Photoshop, nonlinear editing, writing skills, editorial skills, attention to detail, writing and editing online copy, project management, social media, HTML, search-engine optimization, e-commerce, web analytics, basic programming, mobile, RSS, audio podcasts, video, writing, editing, and proofreading, Chicago Manual of Style, deadline pressure, Microsoft Office, writing, capturing visual content and editing stories, Videography, non-linear editing, Final Cut Pro, AP style, deadline, Lift up to 50 lbs.

If you want to check it out, here are the postings:

As a bonus, I created a Wordle based on the titles:
Online Content Manager, Editor, Search Editor, Business/Financial News Editor, Associate Producer of Video, Health Producer, Senior Editor for News, Sports Programmer, Personal Finance Programmer, Business/Technology Web Editor, Reporter, Combat Sports Reporter, Home and Garden Article Writers, TV ‘shoot-edit’ & web videographer, News Social Media Editor, Editor, Enterprising Legal Reporter, Interactive Managing Editor, Website Content Producer, Web Content Producer, Digital-Media Director, Multi-Media Journalist

What skills do you think are the most important for Web journalists?

You can find more from Robert Hernandez at blog.webjournalist.org.

About Robert Hernandez

Robert Hernandez, aka WebJournalist, is an assistant professor at USC Annenberg. Hernandez has been working in Web journalism for more than a decade. He has worked for seattletimes.com, SFGate.com, eXaminer.com, La Prensa Gr


  1. says:

    I agree. The most important skill is journalism, but that makes it sound like journalism hasn’t changed. The skills required to do journalism, as you mention, have changed and require a new set of skills. Fundamentals are still at the top, but even our understanding of what journalism is today needs to change and be included as we think about the skills required.

  2. says:

    The most important skill required for web journalism in today’s, and tomorrow’s market, is the same skill required for NONweb journalism: Fundraising. Convincing editors or publishers or readers (or other interested parties) to pay enough to allow the journalist to work, and, possibly, survive while working. (This is perhaps not so important for hobby journalists, cause journalists, and PR flacks posing as “citizen journalists,” who are being paid to put the word out.)

  3. says:

    Great post. Verbal communication skills are important, as journalists are often called upon to make a video, or moderate a webinar discussion. Project management skills are often critical, as journalists are increasingly doing conference planning.

    Todd Raphael
    ERE Media

    [email protected]
    212-671-1181, ext. 806

  4. says:

    Amen. Although I was a little disappointed that “accuracy” was less than half the size of “HTML” in your Wordle.

  5. says:

    Required Web journalism skill: proofreading. In the case of this article, knowing when to use “who” or “whom” and understanding proper capitalization and punctuation.

  6. Thank you for using Wordle properly, not to be flashy or trendy, but to effectively make a point. The knowledge of web tools and the wisdom to choose the right one (or to opt for words, photo or illustration) is a great example of a web journalism skill that makes for good content.

    The devil’s advocate in me asks if the title of this post could have been “Journalism recruiters are asking for the wrong skills.”

    In reply to that fictional advocate, I refer to a recent Mashable post, where the web 2.0 site announced that it is looking to hire “experienced journalists.” Traditional skills – like sourcing, research, writing and editing – appear high on the list of requirements for each position. Missing from that page are words like interactive, flash, html, javascript, ajax and even django. I think Mashable understands where all these new storytelling tools are headed, and even though they report on all the whiz-bang widgets and technologies they obviously value traditional journalism skills over other technologies to report the news.

  7. says:

    Anyone surprised that the phrase data analysis isn’t in the wordle cloud?

  8. Nice Article, but I think it’s highly missing the point of the transition taking place among Journalism within the online world.

    Here’s the issue:: You’ve got all these great Journalist and they do such great work and they get paid a handsome wage for some by a company needing there unique skill set. Now let’s say the company does not need there so called unique skill set anymore. This is exactly what’s happening now and the one skill set that Journalist better nail down real quick would be SALES, period.

    Editing, SEO, HTML, Video, Photoshop, Journalism skills, etc…The giant Tag Cloud you have in this article represent a bunch of techniques, but without getting PAID, nothing matters. You could be a great writer, but you can’t write for very long without getting paid. You could be great at Photoshop, SEO, HTML, Writing, etc…None of it matters unless your making money.

    If there is one skill that all Journalist better have it better be the skill to make money off there writing cause content is coming from every direction and it’s cheap, it’s on the fly, it’s SEO friendly and it just needs to be enought to wooo a search engine. I guess great content can stand for something, but people aren’t reading much anymore than a few lines, so really it’s just “Content is King” because that’s what the web can interperate and find when doing “Search Algorhytms” and “Spidering” certain sites…

    Journalist have to get paid and they are getting laid off in drones and yet most of them don’t have a SALEs skill in them. Sales is where it’s at, always has been, always will be. Content does not matter at all if the entity that it relies on can’t afford to pay the bills to keep that entity up and running.

    SALES should have been the number 1 SKILL. Just by looking at this chart Journalist are in a lot of trouble, cause number 1 is EDITING, sure hope those people have jobs working for someone who is doing SALES. 🙂

  9. says:

    OK, a journalist’s most important task is, well, to be a journalist. But even print journalism has changed and require reporters to have a number of skills. I used to work in Europe for a major international daily and all the writers ae required to lay out their own pages, find their own photos, etc. Basically, we had to have a perfect knowledge of QuarkXpress, Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. All this to the detriment of the written word: “I don’t care about the content; I just want it to look good because people (read advertisers) pay attention to the visuals first,” said the former editor-in-chief.