Five tips for journalists trying to make the digital transition

NUJ panel_view from the stageToday was a first for me – being a speaker on the social media panel at the NUJ’s one-day conference on the enjoyably menacingly titled New Ways to Make Journalism Pay II. I’d originally signed up to attend the event before I realised I probably had something to pass on from my own experience of shifting from print to online, hence ending up on the stage with this view of a packed room.

Our session took a purely Q&A format but, as prep, I’d put together the five things that have helped me get to grips with digital content work. Here they are…

1. Change is inevitable (except from a vending machine)

Being a trained journalist is useful but really it is just a starting point for all the digital work options out there. You have to step out of the comfort zone and adapt – don’t expect there to be an exact counterpart job in digital media. And even if there is, getting that work means being able to use a bigger kitbag of storytelling tools.

2. Pack up your digital kitbag

So where do you learn these tool and gain digital skills? I highly recommend starting a blog – WordPress.com is the one I use a lot – and having a play at your own pace. There is a whole digital playground of tools out there. The truth is, no one’s going to pay you to learn, you have to do it yourself. But the benefits can be dramatic and have led to me teaching digital skills to London freelance subs. And, don’t worry, the work won’t be wasted – see next point.

3. Your blog is your CV

Social media and digital tools are the new CV and portfolio, Creating content (text, images, video) shows evidence of ability, and also helps connect you (via search engines and social media) with people and potential employers who are interested in your specialism. ‘Show don’t tell’ is the way to get work with digital editors and agencies. So many people say ‘I can do SEO’ – show me the evidence by sharing your work and demonstrating your ability online.

4. Getting ahead of the curve

How do you keep on top of new trends, the industry is moving so fast? The web is bursting with free help and guidance. My list of self-training sources includes:

  • ebooks
  • my social networks (I follow a lot of interesting people)
  • online conference content (SXSW Interactive, Content Marketing World, Confab and Content Strategy Applied are my sources)
  • Slideshare presentations
  • YouTube tutorials

It also involved talking to people, going to conferences, and booking some training or mentoring. I had coaching on public speaking skills with Creative Shift, for example, before this event. And I owe much of my context and understanding for all this stuff from my partner, Pete Ashton who runs Ash10 and basically helps people understand the internet. No mean feat.

Embracing something new is often not just about learning ‘how’ to do something, it’s about breaking down your own barriers: “I’m not technical”, “I don’t get Twitter” etc. My barrier is finding the time and motivation. So I tend to lure myself into training by going to a wifi café, ordering nice food and plugging in to a presentation.

5. Getting started

My one tip is find any ‘in’ you can. You can do all the above on your own as groundwork – but getting paid work is a more chaotic, serendipitous experience now. It might come from putting yourself out there via networking, via your blog or through social media; it might come from cold-calling content agencies or media companies; it might come from in the Co-op wine aisle as one of my jobs did. I wish there was an easy route for journalists – there isn’t but there is a multitude of potential needs out there once you get stuck in.

Conference hashtag: #NUJ_LFBconf2012

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2 Responses to Five tips for journalists trying to make the digital transition

  1. Catharine Young says:

    Hi Fiona,
    We met briefly outside the conference – I asked you who you worked for and talked of my experience with web agencies, internal communications and intranet.

    Thanks for your advice and excellent paneling. I really got a lot out of it – the main things being inspiration and motivation. After a few years of down time with three kids, am now exploring all the lovely new tools – watch this space and look forward to seeing you online :)

  2. Fiona Cullinan says:

    Hi Catharine,

    Afterwards I was wondering if we’d met – you looked very familiar.

    Inspiration and motivation is great. At least that’s my experience of conferences, lots of stuff that floats in and around my head but generally it’t the kick to do something that is most useful.