The first thing I learned when I got my first journalism gig was that I was not special in any way, shape or form. That can’t be an uncommon feeling for any recent j-school grad, fresh out of the bubble. I and every other recent-in-the-last-few-years-recent grad, though, have had more than just the journalism hierarchy to compete with — we’ve also been in competition with anyone with an Internet connection.
The “citizen journalist” is, in all likelihood, here to stay, and journalists pretty much have two options when it comes to competing with the general public:
(1) Cry about it
(2) Get in a position to be better
I prefer the latter. What does getting in a position to be better involve? I’m really not sure, but I know it starts with knowing at least as much as your competition. To that end, I’ve taken some steps to nerd myself up in the past six months (note: to be fair, I also moved to a more tech-heavy job about eight months ago): I signed up for about a dozen social networks; I started blogging regularly; I made more of an effort to be social in social media; I learned some basic code.
That may seem like a lot, but it was done over the course of several months. And to be honest, if any one part of it seems like too much to handle, you may as well just get out of the way.
Let me be a little more useful than to just say, “Do all this stuff,” though. Let’s say the extent of your online knowledge extends to sending and receiving e-mail and maybe uploading new content to your news brand’s CMP; here’s what I’d suggest as a “beginner’s guide to becoming more Web savvy”:
• Sign up for a Google account. It’s free and it makes everything else I’m going to suggest 10 times easier and more enjoyable.
• Start following a few blogs or sites that you’re interested in by stuffing them in your Google Reader. Click the little blue RSS icon to the right of the Web url:
…and then hit “Add to Google Reader.” Check your Google Reader at least once a day.
• Sign up for Twitter. Once you have a Twitter account, go to Twitter search and look for a few keywords related to your niches — the field you cover, the geographic area you cover, etc. Even if you don’t feel comfortable “Tweeting” right away, you can get valuable information from the people in your community that you follow.
• Start blogging in your free time. Calm down — it’s just a journal. Pick something you’re interested in and start talking about it. Do a Google search to find other people that blog about that topic.
And the rest is easy — once you’ve become comfortable with the first few things, add a couple more and just keep doing it each month (or however often you’re comfortable with). If you ever feel like you’re in over your head, Google whatever question you have, word for word — chances are, someone has wondered the same thing on a message board somewhere and had that question answered.
Most of all, have fun. Put some of the passion you have for journalism into your pursuit of your Web education. If you’re not having a good time, it’s just work.