Posted by: structureofnews | November 12, 2010

The Basic Skills, Part Deux

Just an addendum to my earlier posting about what core skills journalists should have after getting out of J-school: Is learning Excel more important than learning FinalCut Pro?  Or rather, if you only have time to learn one, which one is more valuable to you as a journalism student?

Because it’s not that journalism schools don’t want you to learn both; it’s that there’s a ton of new things to learn, and a finite amount of classroom time before people graduate.   So something has to go by the wayside. And arguably, FinalCut Pro will get you hired faster than familiarity with Excel will.  (That’s probably a sad reflection on the industry, but that’s another story.)

Still, the debate on what gets cut shouldn’t revolve around software.  Excel is wonderful, and FinalCut Pro is useful.  But more important is what they represent – or at least, what they enable: Which is facility with the grammar of numbers and the grammar of video (or moving images, or something akin to that.)   We need to learn the grammar of narrative – which almost all schools teach – much more than learning how to use Microsoft Word.  (Or course, if we don’t know how to use Word – or an equivalent product – then we’re stuck, so learning software does matter.)

What are the grammars that matter?  Narrative is one, obviously.  I’d argue that numeracy – which is the basis of solid analysis and understanding of complex subjects – is a close second.  Visual grammar – not just photography, but more broadly graphics, data and information design – will be more and more important.  Video grammar (or the grammar of moving images) matters; audio – or oral – grammar does as well.  And probably web grammar – or understanding human behavior as it interacts with a site – is critical if we’re going to really communicate with people in this medium.

It’s a long list, but it isn’t software.   It’s the multiple languages that we’re all able to communicate in these days.  We won’t be good at all of them – maybe not even at any of them.  But we need to be aware of how each one works.



  1. […] We Don’t Know We Don’t Know I’ve written a number of times about the skills I think journalists need to have to survive and thrive in the future.  It can seem overwhelming, I […]

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