A journalist tool box

Journalism Tool box: What every young journalist needs

As a young, aspiring journalist, I want to know what it is I need to have, what I need to know and what I need to learn. I’ve spoken to some friends, colleagues and with a few professional internships in my past, I think I am ready to fill the vaccum. What needs to be in every young journalist’s tool box?

Yeah, you have to have a sense of how to give an interview and ask questions. You need a sense of your beat or relevant sources. You want to establish a list of Internet resources for quick, effective answers to your questions – where can you get the statistics to package with the color and quotations you get. But all of this comes with working in a setting. A statehouse to a city desk to a rural local section all present fairly different methods for the above necessities.

Let’s talk more practically and tangibly.

  • The classics: That means a devoted, designated notebook or steno pad, so notes aren’t lost, and a dependable pen. Try to never leave without either. This also means an AP Style Book, because almost every newspaper follows their style and grammar rules strictly or nearly. If you follow it, you’ll improve your copy in an editor’s eyes dramatically.
  • Audio recorder: Ideally you want one that can transfer files onto your computer via a USB port and creates MP3 files. Many journalists still refuse to use audio recorders – I didn’t for much of my college reporting career. They say, and sometimes rightly so, that they aren’t paying attention to the speaker. Get over it. Take studious notes, but don’t be afraid to go back to the audio. You’ll be impressed by how often you incorrectly bridge sentences when you’re taking your own notes. What’s more, with the ease of USB entry and a simple audio-editing program like Audacity, you can seem a whole lot more knowledgeable in audio reporting than you are.
  • Point and click camera: If you’re strapped for cash, it’s no necessity, but whether you buy it or not, familiarize yourself with a digital cameras, preferably one that can shoot video. If you can, get one and go nowhere without it. Make it one with you. Make it the anchor of your mobile journalist kit.
  • Binder with clips: Get a small half inch binder. Stuff it with your best clips, printed as pretty as you can. Get a resume in there. Whenever you go for an interview or meet with anyone with some professional merit, bring it along – even if they’ve already seen your clips. It’s your portfolio, give to anyone to flip through and judge you.
  • PDF clips: Here’s a thought. If you know your paper’s designer or an editor, try to get PDF versions of your clips. The colors are vibrant, the words crisp and look far more professional. If not available, work your ass off on getting clean photocopied versions and get them in your binder, so you always have a good version from which to make copies if you have to send. If you ever get a front page story, use Newseum, which posts the covers of hundreds of daily newspapers in the country.
  • GMail account: It’s time to give up on your Juno account. In addition to oodles of space, great searchability and organization, having an account gives you access to a host of great applications. Not the least of which are Google Reader and Google Documents. Reader gained noteriety for being the first powerful feed reader that allowed you to share items with your friends. Once you figure it out and develop a community of friends sharing what they read, you can comb the Internet and news sources remarkably efficiently. In your Google Documents, get a copy of your resume and clean versions of your clips ready, so wherever you are, if you have Internet access you can send in your materials.
  • Professional Web site domain: This is nothing unique among new media circles but plenty of young journalists are missing this message. Buy your own domain name from GoDaddy for $10.19 a year. Link to a free WordPress site or Blogger or whatever you prefer. Post your resume and clips. List it on your printed resumed and your e-mail signatures. Share it with friends. Link to their sites and have them do the same for you.
  • Blog: You need… need to set up a Web site with a resume and clips. That can be done simply. I won’t yet tell anyone he needs to be blogging, but it helps in so many ways for young journalists. It increases your search engine optimization, it allows you to develop a voice, speed and a sense of blogging. It can also give you a chance to try to develop digital imaging skill by creating images for your posts. See another list of blogging necessities, as if a list of things you could learn by blogging, in addition to being forced to better understand the Internet.
  • Social networking accounts: You can decide what ones are most important to you, but you need to accept this new age. Journalists of the past hid in the shadows. Do not make yourself the story. It was a mortal sin to do otherwise. But increasingly in the future, your byline is your brand is your professional identity. Using an RSS feed from your Web site, you can exist in multiple venues without much effort. I use my Facebook account, MySpace site, and Wired Journalists page to expand the voice of my Web site, while also controlling Web searches for my name. So I say join them all, get your name in there, link to your site and forget about them.
  • Know what you want to do.

Some more great advice from Howard Owens on his post about things a journalist can do to improve journalism.