My advice for j-students who want to make a difference (and get a job)

I just told you how journalism is not a good career choice for most of you, but I know many of you are going to attempt to change journalism and I salute you.

Therefor, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer you advice on how to get a good journalism job and how to be prepared for the changing landscape of journalism. What do you need? Lots of skills and a willingness to learn even more skills.

This is advice, however, is only for those j-school students willing to take risks and who aren’t afraid of trying something new — the j-school students who are willing to try to make a difference in the industry during these difficult times.

This is for the few j-school students willing to do whatever it takes to make a difference. This is for the students who don’t believe that only writing is “real journalism.” This is for the students who want to make journalism that matters in the formats and mediums that matters to the people. We serve the people — not ourselves.

This is what you need to do to prepare yourself for modern-day journalism and to be able to land a job in today’s ultra-competitive market place (nothing breeds competition like scarcity):

You must have an online presence – It’s the 21st-century, are you honestly still sending packets of clips out to employers? And if employers want you to snail male them clips, do you honestly want to work for them? The answer to both is, of course, no.

When I built my personal site a few years ago, I set out to develop a place to showcase my work and talents. I knew I needed a digital résumé. A paper résumé might be fine for a print reporter, but for an online journalist it’s laughable.

Want my contact info? Go to my Web site. Want to view my work? Go to my Web site. Want to find out about me? Go to my Web site.

Business cards, printed résumés and biographies are so last century. I wanted to land a job in the 21st century, so I had to figure out a21st century way of marketing myself.

Professor Mindy McAdams tells students to make sure they have a respectable online presence. The key there is respectable. Don’t waste your time with an ugly, mistake-filled Web site that isn’t compatible on a lots of browsers and has very little content on it. Remember, your personal Web site is a reflection of you.

Even if you want to be “just a reporter” you need an online presence. Why? Because many jobs will ask you if you have a blog or personal Web site.

They won’t be impressed with “no.” Some employers might not care if you have online skills or an online presence (there are still many employers out there like this), but many do care deeply and won’t hire a technophobe. They certainly won’t hire a technophobe not in this job market and with the demands modern journalism.

Luckily for all of you, I already wrote a post on how to make a personal Web site: Build a digital résumé and make yourself stand out. If all j-students left school with the ability to launch a personal Web site and blog, journalism would be infused each year with new talent and skills. Journalism needs people with technical skills and a firm understanding of the Web.

But don’t wait on starting that personal Web site. Meranda Watling says to just do it.

You must have at least some online and multimedia skills — If you have a lot of online and multimedia skills and the flexibility and willingness to learn new things, not only am I confident that you can make a difference, but I’m also confident you would be extremely employable should you choose to leave journalism (and you might have to one day whether you want to or not).

Last year I made a summer reading list for j-school students who wanted to learn new media skills. It covers HTML, CSS, audio, video, Flash, blogs, etc. The list is for learning technical skills, but you’ll also want some more general online skills. Do you belong to social networks? You should at least try a few out.

Try them all and see which ones you like. I guarantee you won’t like them all, but I’m confident you’ll like a few. Understanding social networking is very important for journalists moving forward. The No. 1 thing that most news sites lack is the kind of conversation and community participation that blogs and social networks foment.

If you look at the way most new sites integrate with social networks, it’s a very me-first strategy. News companies are only interested in finding ways of getting users to push news content onto social networks, but it doesn’t really serve the readers. Instead of asking our audience to seek us, we should go out and seek our audience.

The problem, however, is that the majority of people working at and running news sites don’t get social networking and its power. Make it your mission to get social networking. The Web is going to be increasingly social in the years to come.

And I would never, ever consider hiring a new grad who didn’t use social networks. Almost all college kids do, and if you don’t, it would be a huge red flag. Huge.

It’s not too late to learn — It’s never too late to learn skills, whether you are a last semester senior staring at graduation in four months or a 65-year-old reporter. If you’re younger than a college senior, you have no excuse for not learning lots of online and multimedia skills.

If your j-school doesn’t teach the skills you need to succeed — and they probably don’t — make it your mission to learn on your own. Most j-schools will teach you how to be a good interviewer and reporter. Now you just need to learn how to translate those skills into new mediums.

And frankly, it’s not that hard. Sign up for a Lynda.com account to learn lots of online skills. A years worth of great training videos, tutorials and work sheets is less than a lot of you pay for a semesters worth of books you’ll barely touch.

Finally, forget all that talk about how journalists only produce content while we leave the business and marketing to others. You need to understand business and marketing, because you are in the business of marketing yourself.

Go out and grab yourself the computer, online and multimedia skills you need to compete in the 21st century. Then market the hell out of yourself with a great personal Web site and a strong presence on social networks in the blogosphere.

What are you waiting for? Do it.