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Sept. 13, 2012, 10:48 a.m.
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Meredith Artley: Here’s what we look for when we hire young journalists, j-school grads or not

The managing editor of CNN’s digital operations says coding and multimedia skills are becoming more common among new hires, but that specialized knowledge is getting hard to find.

Editor’s Note: It’s the start of the school year, which means students are returning to journalism programs around the country. As the media industry continues to evolve, how well is new talent being trained, and how well are schools preparing them for the real world?

We asked an array of people — hiring editors, recent graduates, professors, technologists, deans — to evaluate the job j-schools are doing and to offer ideas for how they might improve. Over the coming days, we’ll be sharing their thoughts with you. Here’s Meredith Artley, vice president and managing editor of CNN Digital, offering insight on what she’s seeing when she looks to hire digital journalists today.

At CNN Digital, we’ve welcomed more than two dozen digital journalists in the past year to strengthen our web and mobile sites (and an additional few dozen more in non-journalism positions like research, product, operations, and business strategy). It’s wonderful to be at a company that is investing in journalism and in digital journalists.

It’s a far more competitive market than even five years ago. That’s great for me and my peers in the industry who are hiring. But for the applicants, it places a premium on not just showing us that you have the skills, but showing what you uniquely can bring to the job. The job goes to people who don’t just have the skills, but to those who demonstrate knowledge and curiosity about the job, the company and the broader digital landscape.

The main mistake I see recent college grads make in interviews — and sometimes not-so-recent grads as well — is an expectation of a one-way conversation. I’ve seen candidates with strong resumes who haven’t appeared to have done their homework or haven’t come with their own questions. It could be anything — tell me something you like or don’t like about CNN, ask me to describe the culture of the newsroom, share an observation about a competitor. Just don’t expect a passive experience where we ask the questions, then you supply answers and wait for the next question. I’ve always seen interviews as an opportunity for a conversation, and to learn if it’s a right fit for both parties, no matter what side of the table I’m on.

Skill-wise, people who have the killer journalist/coder combo have been a hot commodity for some time. But those candidates now are becoming easier to find thanks to schools evolving their programs by melding programming and journalism courses, and people who learn interactive reporting skills on the job.

It’s getting harder to find specialists in certain beats. There are generalists galore. A broad curiosity about the world is a good prerequisite for landing a job in journalism, but the resumes that show specialized interest and experience in a beat or topic are increasingly rare and precious — health, foreign affairs, science, education, religion, to name a few.

I remember when I landed my first journalism job — I had the luck of graduating from the University of Missouri in 1995 with some actual web journalism experience already under my belt. Those things, along with a connection with an alumnus I made at school, eventually got me in the door as one of the first web producers for The New York Times. During the interview, I was proud of my journalism degree from one of the best j-schools in the country. My wonderful and frank boss-to-be, Bernie Gwertzman, told me he didn’t necessarily “believe in” journalism degrees. He noted that some of the best journalists he knew had deep expertise in a topic and then learned how to be journalists. I wouldn’t change my own path for anything in the world, but I don’t consider a journalism degree to be a job requirement.

Also, the resume is no longer queen. It’s one of many tools for your potential employer to get to know you better, and it’s rarely the first impression we get of a candidate. I generally hear a name or recommendation from someone inside or outside the company. If I get an email, remember — the message will be read before the resume. Sometimes I’ll hear the name of a candidate, and then me or someone on the team will do a quick search to look at that person’s digital and social presence. We may not see a resume until much later.

At a big global company like CNN, we have a well-oiled machine of recruiters, HR staff, and relocation experts. I’ve been working as digital editor for more than 15 years, and looking back at the scrappy hiring practices of web sites in the late ’90s, it’s a luxury to have this support in identifying the best talent out there. While the recruiting and hiring process has changed dramatically, much of the basics remain the same.

Photo by David used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Sept. 13, 2012, 10:48 a.m.
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