Good writing just isn’t enough

Kristin Bull, the web editor and social media manager for Crain’s Detroit Business, talked to Oakland University journalism students about the importance of diversifying skills.

Bull has over a decade worth of experience working in the field of journalism. She’s worked for the Kansas City Star as a graphic designer, a writer for the Detroit Free Press and an editor for Rochester Patch. Over the years, Bull has seen the field change. When she graduated with her degree, Bull said, “Jobs were everywhere.” Now, that’s no longer the case. Publications are reducing their staff to cut costs, and as a result, reporters are required to be more than just reporters.

Individuals carrying the full workload are now doing what several people, who each had a specific skill, once did. Reporting, photography, video capturing and editing, wed design and graphic design are the tools of the trade that journalism majors must have before graduating.

Being just a good writer is not going to cut it anymore, according to Bull. “Unless you’re the best writer,” said Bull, “you’re going to have trouble finding a job.”

Crain’s Detroit Business is one publication that prepares students for the real world. Through the internship program, the staff at CDB is teaching young writers everything they need to stand out in the job market. Bull said they don’t look for interns who are already fluent in web design, photography and video editing. They start with the basics, and learn everything else on the way.

Bull thinks that more change is on the way. She said, “I see a day coming where you are expected to post your own stories on the web.” That means journalists will have to be their own editors, which could lead to some less favorable consequences.

The challenge of necessary diversification is a loss of great skill. Journalists must ask themselves if it is better to be good at everything, or to be great at something. The more we require of our writers, the more the writing may suffer.

Although Twitter and Facebook are helpful tools for getting attention, there is no telling whether or not these social media platforms will stand the test of time. If too much attention is put into learning how to tweet instead of how to actually write the news, the current generation of journalists will find themselves in the same situation as their predecessors. As their favorite social media sites die off and new platforms take over, will journalists be able to transfer over? Adaptation to new media is important, but the media changes faster than we can keep up with. That’s why the essential skills of the journalist can never be overrated. As Bull put it, “It all comes back to the basics.”

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