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April 14, 2009, 10 a.m.

The new skillset for online reporters: speed, marketing, audience-building, tweeting, and “having a good time”

Last week we published two videos from my interview with Alan Murray, deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, covering his wisdom on charging for content and his thoughts on changes at the Journal under Rupert Murdoch.

In this third installment, Murray, who oversees the Journal’s website, talks about what qualities he looks for in hiring online reporters and how he manages journalists with different skillsets. Here’s the money quote:

My generation, the notion of marketing your own copy, that was like dirty. You know, don’t make me get near that. That’s somebody else’s job. But in fact, now, marketing — we don’t call it that, but that’s a big part of what online journalists do. Figuring out which blogs they need to be in touch with in order to keep their audience together, using Twitter to drive traffic to your stuff, figuring out the right mix.

Murray himself is active on Twitter under the username @alansmurray, where he offers a mix of financial news and inside-the-newsroom tidbits. (A tweet yesterday: “Slow news day….so far.”) I’ve been feeling more confident about the economy recently as Murray points to signs that the markets may have reached bottom.

A full transcript of the above video is after the jump.

In the digital area, you do want people who can be very fast and are willing to, you know, post multiple times a day and to multitask. […] They really have to get engaged in finding their audience. They’re really — you know, my generation, the notion of marketing your own copy, that was like dirty. You know — don’t make me get near that. That’s somebody else’s job. But in fact, now, marketing — we don’t call it that, but that’s a big part of what online journalists do. Figuring out which blogs they need to be in touch with in order to keep their audience together, using Twitter to drive traffic to your stuff, figuring out the right mix.

I mean, the art of a good blog is figuring out the right mix between the piece that you know is going to get maximum search-engine hits to the piece that really defines what you’re doing that’s uniquely valuable. That second piece might not bring in as much traffic, but it’s the piece that’s gonna keep the traffic once you get it in the door. So all of that, which is part of the job of building a community, building an audience — those are totally new skills. And so when I say entrepreneurial, I’m talking about people who have shown some ability to play that game, which is very foreign to most journalists my age. […]

You have to play to people’s strengths. What we’ve done is we’ve gone out and tried to figure out who are the people in the newsroom who can really adapt to that new style of posting seven times a day and enjoy it? Because, I mean — one thing about the web, and I think you guys know this, is if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, it’s gonna come through. It’s a much more personal medium. And so if you’re not in there, having a good time, excited about what you’re doing, there’s very little possibility that you’re readers are going to get excited about what you’re doing.

So there’s not much point in taking a reporter who — you mentioned one a minute ago — and saying you ought to be writing eight times on the web. It just doesn’t get you anywhere. So as a manager, what I’ve tried to do and what we’ve tried to do is find the people who are particularly suited for that and let them be the ones to do that. And they get very excited about it and juiced about it and enjoy doing it. And then try and create jobs for other people to do the type of journalism they do best.

Because we’re still doing the full range. We are gonna keep doing long-form journalism, and we’re gonna keep doing daily journalism, and we’re gonna be building up these real-time columns, all at the same time. So there’s a — for us, at least, there’s a wide swath of types of writing you can do, and it’s up to managers to get the right people in the right job.

POSTED     April 14, 2009, 10 a.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Wall Street Journal’s Alan Murray
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