A diploma and a blog

I’ve been quoting Neil McIntosh of the Guardian to my students this week, saying he expects job applicants to have a blog. And conveniently, here’s Neil today leaving a comment with his rationale (responding to a question from Paul Bradshaw):

I tell all the journalism students I meet this: blogs are the minimum. There’s no excuse for a student journalist who wants to work online not to have one. The only exception (and even then…) might be if they were heavily involved in student media, or were working for a publication part-time, or were doing some kind of other digital work which trumped having a mere blog. And no, MySpace/Bebo/Facebook pages don’t count :)

Moreover, the quality of the blog really matters, because it lets me see how good someone is unedited and entirely self-motivated. If I were to see a decent pitch with a blog address on it, I’d look, and the quality and frequency could count heavily in the author’s favour. And if a brilliant graduate didn’t have a blog, but still made interview, I’d be asking, politely, why not…

LATER: John Robinson, cybersmart editor of the News & Record, weighs in.

I ask job applicants if they have a blog. Most of them don’t. Then I ask them if they read my blog. About half of them haven’t.

The two questions tell me a lot about the candidates. First, if they have a blog, it gives me an indication of their passion for writing and communicating. It also allows me to see how their unedited writing reads. I rarely pay attention to submitted clips; I know how good editing can make a mediocre writer appear positively Halberstamian. Finally, in answering the question, they usually let on what they think of blogging and digital. Believe it, some trash blogs.

Second, if they haven’t read my blog, it tells me they haven’t done their homework. That makes the candidate a non-starter.

Actually, it helps winnow down the candidates pretty quickly.

In the comments, there, Mark Potts adds:

It’s not so much that there’s great magic in writing a blog–it’s just another publishing tool, in my book–but it certainly reveals a lot about their comfort and facility with the Web and new media. It also is very revealing about what their raw writing skills are like, as you point out.

On the digital side, especially, we need people who are “native speakers” or as fluent as possible in the new ways of presenting information and interacting with readers. There’s no question they’re more qualified if they’ve walked the walk, talked the talk and blogged the blog.

  • So, does it matter what this blog is about? Specifically, is it more important for journalists and journalism students to be blogging about the industry and our place in it, or to find an issue and blog that? Is it practical/advisable to do both? To be personal and professional?

    These questions run through my head every time I send a pitch. Thanks prompting me to get them out there (and for any answers you have).

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  • Gayle Golden

    Absolutely. As a lecturer at the University of Minnesota’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who teaches basic news writing and intermediate reporting, I require my students to create a news blog. Each week, they need to summarize five news stories and then link to how the stories are is reported from a range of news organizations — TV, print, radio, online. They can comment on and compare the effectiveness of the reporting. They can assess credibility and analyze sources or compehensiveness. More broadly on the blog, they can add permanent links, such as those to open-records laws, professional associations or publications as relevant. Eventually, in the intermediate class, the blog can become a way of showcasing the student’s own stories, photos and videos. For many of them, it’s the first foray into a serious online news platform, a product beyond MySpace. Just recently, a student was hired by a major news organization, which looked at his class blog as an example of how he thinks — unedited — about the news. Motivated students embrace the form and move forward in interesting ways. I encourage them to keep up the blog after the class. So yes, I agree.

  • It’s really hard to interview someone who doesn’t have much of an internet presence. The resume isn’t a sheet of paper. It’s your online identity. I’ve researched the majority of our recent editorial hires at my site, and the main thing I’m looking for is their blog and what they write about. I hope to stumble on their other web ventures when researching them, too. But it’s really the blog I want. And if they don’t have one, well, they likely aren’t too serious about finding work on the web.

  • John Robinson, editor of the Greensboro News-Record, has picked up this topic on his blog, http://blog.news-record.com/staff/jrblog/2008/01/should_journali.shtml.

    Should job applicants have a blog? JR says: “…It helps winnow down the candidates pretty quickly.”

    I might hire someone without a blog if, instead, he or she created and/or maintained a web site. I probably wouldn’t even interview applicants whose resumes or cover letters don’t indicate they have a web presence.

  • I’m not a journalism student, but I’m currently looking for work and have also thought to myself if it’d be appropriate to mention my blog. I always believe that you could run a risk of alienating an employer with a blog, as much as getting positive attention. E.g., on my Monster resume, the URL I link to is my Myspace page; like I said, I think maybe a benign presence on the web would be best. But I link to my blog on Myspace in case employers want to investigate further.

    There’s nothing explicit or objectionable on my blog, but I do talk politics a bit, and I don’t want to run the danger of trying to attract an employer whose political views and mine are polar opposites. So maybe a student might not want to blog because it could be, for lack of a better term, a double-edged sword?

  • I agree that any prospective applicant should have an online presence – certainly I’ve blogged about my commitment and views to that effect.

    But I would dismiss the use of Myspace/Facebook etc as not being as important as a blog. That’s the kind of thinking that gets journalists dismissing blogs in the first place. Or then dismissing the opportunities that can arise from social networking etc.

    And don’t Facebook and Myspace both give the little used opportunity to blog?

    I’d suggest making sure you blog where appropriate and use social networks, particularly the more professional-style ones like LinkedIn. As for the subject of the blog, it has to be something you’re passionate about or interested in. Don’t make it about journalism or media, if you yearn to write about baseball or music etc…It’s about the quality, not the focus…

    I always mention my blog on my CV etc.

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  • Bilal Zaiter

    I belong to the ( third world) . i have lived my entire life in Middle east so far.. so i have an alternative perspective to share.

    first, media itself didnt come to believe in online spaces untill recently . two main TV stations consider online spaces seriously ( AL Jazeera and Al Arabia). However, Lebanese newspaperes has realtively long ago considered online spaces targeted mainly at youth.

    so you can tell that journalisim or communication students are not even aware about this medium

    in the region. lebanon, egypet, palestine and israel are considered to the main countires with well conntectivity to online journalisim.. as you may realize these countries are aware about civil society concepts and the freedom of expression.

    back to the main issue, yes blogs are critical, and important to tell a lot about journalists. the unscensored content factor becomes even more critical and mean of differentiation when talking about ( third world ) countries.

    it also gives insights about the main pressing and relevant issues to the writer.
    I do strongly beleive that writting and journalisim are about passion as much as they are about knowlege and education and these blogs tells a lot about the passionate side as much as about the insightful one.

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