Self-Motivation and Journalism Students

January 12th, 2009; 11:48 am by Ryan Thornburg

With the start of the new semester at UNC today, it’s a good time for a “What did you do over vacation?” post. For journalism students who have a sincere interest in online, they probably spent the break teaching themselves new technology.

Exhibit A: Greg Linch, editor for online and multimedia at The Miami Hurricane.

Before the break, Linch pondered on his blog what he should teach himself during break. He said most of the responses suggested databases, computer assisted reporting and search engine optimization. Keep in mind that he says he already knows:

  • Writing and reporting
  • Media law and ethics
  • AP style
  • Video content gathering and editing
  • Audio content gathering editing
  • Photography and photo editing
  • Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign
  • Blogging
  • Social media
  • Content and community management
  • SEO (more than basic)
  • Flash
  • JavaScript (fairly basic)
  • Spanish

This is the kind of initiative and self-motivation needed by any journalism students who wants to be more than average.

As Andrew Dunn here at UNC laments, there simply isn’t enough time to learn everything in the confines of a student’s pursuit for course credits. As much as a reporting internship is mandatory for journalism students, so is the interest and ability to teach yourself technology.

Why? First, because this is how professional journalists teach themselves new technology. They don’t get time to sit in a classroom three hours a week so they can figure out how to write “Hello, World!” in PHP. They do their normal reporting jobs, then go home and start teaching themselves the skills they need to further their careers.

Second, because you will get crap assignments in the working world if you don’t show some initiative. As a veteran journalist at The Washington Post once explained to me, he knew that if he generated enough of own story ideas that his editor wouldn’t come looking for him when she needed someone to cover the Miss Pumpkin contest. A lot of my students look at the news sites today and think they’re pretty bad. OK… but if you don’t have the initiative and skills to fix them, they ain’t going to get any better.

The students who will get the jobs are the ones who are out there building things on their own. The tools are often free or cheap, and so are the tutorials. It’s not enough for a student just to take an online or multimedia class. They have to take the skills and concepts they learn there and then go build something — anything.

So, kick of the new semester by leaving time on your schedule for learning some new media skill. Don’t want to do it alone? Start a student club with other fellow travelers. Get a computer science student to join you as a guide. Here’s a guide to the free tutorials out there if you just make the time.

  • Knight Citizen News Network Learning Modules
  • Knight Digital Media Center Tutorials
  • Journalism 2.0 (PDF book)
  • Online Journalism Review ‘How-To’ Guides
  • Computer Based Training (on-demand video tutorials, for UNC students/faculty only
  • Safari (O’Reilly tech books online , for UNC students/faculty only
  • Online Tools for Reporting (Andrew Dunn)
  • The Official Spectator Guide to Going Web 2.0 (Karak-Leigh Hancock)

There are no doubt countless other free resources out there for journalists. If you have one you’d like to share, please post in the comments below.

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Related posts:

  1. The N&O and Online Journalism Students
  2. Journalism Education: Training the Trainers
  3. Innovative Student Journalism in the Works
  4. Budget Cuts Begin to Hurt
  5. Reflection: The Secret to Teaching Journalism to Digital Natives

4 Responses to “Self-Motivation and Journalism Students”

  1. Elizabeth Ladzinski Says:

    Thanks for this… as if my conscience wasn’t hounding me enough. I appreciate these links.

  2. Greg Linch Says:

    Thanks for the kind words and list of links. – although not free – is a great resource for going in-depth with different concepts, software, programming languages, etc. Two of my visual journalism classes required it last semester and I’ve found it to be well worth the money.

    Check out the reviews Pat Thornton has posted on Wired Journalists:

  3. Karah-Leigh Hancock Says:

    Thanks for the link Ryan!

  4. Emily Ingram Says:

    Greg’s absolutely right about being a great resource, especially for more complicated software and programming languages. I can usually follow’s instructions much more easily than I can follow a straight how-to book on the same topic.

    Another resource I’ve found useful for learning is Mindy McAdams’ slew of guides, tipsheets, links, etc.

    And, if you want to switch things up, I also recommend Religion Newswriters’ webinars on Islam. Most journalists I know say they could don’t understand the religion, and the organization’s webinars are short and to-the-point.

    For more info on which courses I found to be especially useful, check out

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