J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

“You can always learn more or new ways to code, but not everyone can effectively ask ‘why’ a project is being done a certain way.”

I was a bit daunted by the prospect of coming up with a prediction for 2021. A year ago, none of us could have imagined some of the events of this past year and the effect they would have on business, media, education, and our personal lives.

The best I could do was provide some hopeful remarks that transitioning into 2021 would mark a positive move forward. But it all seemed so hollow. I knew there were people who had struggled in different and profound ways in the past year.

I decided to ask some of the journalists who I felt had been affected the most by the pandemic — recent graduates — to see how they were feeling about the future. They have experienced a unique set of obstacles: graduating into a pandemic economy, online-learning challenges, virtual job hunting, remote workplaces, layoffs, furloughs, career transitions, and a heated social and political landscape. I felt that their insights would be a better indication of the way forward than anything I could pontificate.

I reached out to a few recent alumni and was pleased with their quick and enthusiastic replies. Some were optimistic in their predictions as they relate to digital technologies and their industries.

“I think every facet of the digital world is going to expand,” said Michael Knop, a 2019 graduate of Texas State’s Digital Media Innovation (DMI) program and digital team lead at EBQ, a marketing support company for the tech industry. “With COVID and lockdowns, we have seen such a big shift in how we live our lives. People are more engaged digitally than ever, and businesses have had to adapt and establish much stronger digital presences than they have before.”

Ashley Romo graduated this summer with the DMI degree and is a social media coordinator at Khoros, a customer engagement platform company. She feels that some trends that originated with the pandemic will become commonplace. “We have continued to see growth in the digital industry during the COVID-19 pandemic as companies are relying more on the virtual experience for their existing customers and to expand their audience,” Romo said. “I predict this trend will continue, as companies have had to adapt to the virtual landscape, and customers will, or already have, become accustomed to the accessibility and conveniences.”

Sonia Garcia is a senior producer for the news startup Austonia.com. She graduated with the DMI degree in May. “I believe 2021 will continue to bring forth new ways to imagine news,” said Garcia. “In 2020, we saw multiple local organizations redesign their clunky news sites. In a pandemic, the way readers consume news on their phones is so important. “

“In 2021, I think we will see established organizations trying to catch up with the newer, more innovative organizations, to begin thinking about news as a product,” Garcia continued.

Some linked future success to cultural and social change.

“Media organizations will continue their push toward better diversity, equity, and inclusion in various capacities, from hiring practices, employee resource groups, internal corporate initiatives, and even some consumer-facing products,” said Sean Smith, a designer and front-end developer at Gannett in Austin. “With that push, however, will come stronger scrutiny and skepticism from audiences around an organization’s efforts and from an organization’s own members. Cross-organizational collaboration between product, human resources, ethics, and reporting teams will be necessary to see DE&I initiatives succeed.” Smith received a master’s degree in our program with a concentration in digital media in 2019.

Thomas Hodge is a creative hybrid at Pereira O’Dell advertising agency. “Pop culture will have an effect on everything we develop in the digital space, including applications, social media, and businesses,” Hodge said. “The younger generation wants to be able to connect and relate to businesses and their brands.” Hodge is a 2016 Electronic Media graduate, one of the first students to achieve our Digital Media concentration.

Hodge also addressed changes to work processes. “COVID has changed working entirely, but the silver-lining for some jobs is that it is now proven that work — and the vast majority of it —can be done from anywhere,” Hodge said. “Now, this will change how companies decide how and where to work.”

He offered questions to consider regarding how real estate savings could be better redistributed. “How else can companies better utilize their funds? Better benefits? Better pay? More hires?” he asked.

I allowed for anonymous comments, in order to get the most candid assessments. One responder was cautious about the potential for acceptance of emerging media platforms.

“Product and innovation teams will continue pushing their organizations to adapt to, catch up to or perhaps even get ahead of emerging media trends like audio storytelling, augmented reality and data interactives, and using APIs to automate wide-scale content syndication,” one anonymous responder said. “Unfortunately, they’ll also likely be stalled either by corporate bureaucracy or traditional newsroom silos.”

“‘Traditional’ reporters and editors need to understand that they’re surrounded by resources that can elevate their journalism into something deeply experiential and meaningful for their audiences,” the responder continued. “While it’s understandable that content shifted back to the expected, easy, status-quo workflow when the pandemic disrupted everything, this time could be used to revolutionize the way news is produced.”

What advice did these young professionals have for others who will soon be graduating and seeking employment in still challenging times? Some emphasized breadth of competencies.

“Get comfortable with everything digital,” Knop said. “Having experience in a wide variety of things is very valuable.”

“Be a sponge. I have been told consistently that companies are attracted to me because my background is so diverse to come from a journalism program that teaches coding, shooting and editing video and Adobe creative programs,” Hodge said. “They’re like ‘what can’t you do?’ It’s not enough, in my opinion, to specialize in one thing and not know anything else.”

The breadth of competencies should also include cultural awareness.

“I would rather work with someone who knows a little about a lot of things and can introduce me to new things, than a person who specializes in one, not being to tell me what’s hot right now, what’s about to be the next big thing or just have a finger on the pulse of technology,” Hodge continued.

Some responders emphasized the reciprocal value of networking.

“My advice would be to find people who are in the position and/or company you’re interested in and reach out to them on LinkedIn,” Romo said. “People are so much more willing to help than we often assume, and a lot of companies offer referral bonuses, so it’s also in their favor to help you.”

“You will likely also get some insight about the company culture based on how you’re responded to, which may even help you determine if it’s a company you want to be a part of or not,” Romo continued.

Many recommended being open-minded when applying for positions and the importance of continuous learning to keep skills up to date.

“Apply for a job even if you don’t meet all of the requirements,” said Jacklyn Mann, a 2018 DMI graduate and marketing automation specialist at e-commerce platform BigCommerce. “Work on getting certifications and utilize LinkedIn learning,”

Juan Garcia Jimenez graduated in July 2020 with the DMI degree and is a full-stack web developer at Wytec International, Inc., a 5G telecommunication company. “Code during your free time and learn to be ok with not knowing everything,” said Garcia Jimenez. “I think coding has so many possibilities to solve a problem that it challenges you to be creative with your approach to the solution.”

But don’t discount those communication skills.

“During interviews try your best to also market your communication skills rather than just your coding skills,” Garcia Jimenez continued. “Communication skills are a bigger asset than any coding skills you might have.”

Several emphasized the importance of being flexible and taking initiative.

“Don’t expect your title to define what you do, nor should you let it,” Smith said. “It’s crucial to be able to hop into a project and use soft skills to solve problems.”

With flexibility, however, should come some insight on priorities. “It’s less important to know 20 different JavaScript libraries and more important to know if the data you’re presenting in an interactive is misleading or has enough context for the audience to understand it,” Smith continued. “You can always learn more or new ways to code, but not everyone can effectively ask ‘why’ a project is being done a certain way.”

Garcia’s time at Austonia.com has proven the value of initiative. She started with the organization as an audience development producer in June 2020 but recently moved up to a leadership role. She offered this advice. “Be ambitious and flexible — but professional and calm,” Garcia said. “Stop waiting for things to happen and be the change. The media is a tough industry, so to be in this industry, you have to buckle down and do this because you want to.”

In summary, these young professionals are approaching 2021 with optimism, adaptability, and a broad digital appreciation, with a measure of caution. Reading these insights made me hopeful for the year ahead, that our future was in good hands, even though there will be challenges to overcome.

The alumni above represent a range of innovative opportunities for those with broad digital awareness from a communication perspective. If you’re on the faculty of a journalism or media program, I hope you will take these comments to heart and assess the level to which your program is introducing digital innovation concepts for the benefit of your students. And all organizations should recognize the wide range of competencies their companies will need for continued success.

Now, more than ever, as we enter 2021, media professionals will need to be broadly prepared, flexible, and ready to contribute to innovation, so they can be and remain employed and their industries will remain sustainable.

Cindy Royal is a professor and director of the Media Innovation Lab at Texas State University.

I was a bit daunted by the prospect of coming up with a prediction for 2021. A year ago, none of us could have imagined some of the events of this past year and the effect they would have on business, media, education, and our personal lives.

The best I could do was provide some hopeful remarks that transitioning into 2021 would mark a positive move forward. But it all seemed so hollow. I knew there were people who had struggled in different and profound ways in the past year.

I decided to ask some of the journalists who I felt had been affected the most by the pandemic — recent graduates — to see how they were feeling about the future. They have experienced a unique set of obstacles: graduating into a pandemic economy, online-learning challenges, virtual job hunting, remote workplaces, layoffs, furloughs, career transitions, and a heated social and political landscape. I felt that their insights would be a better indication of the way forward than anything I could pontificate.

I reached out to a few recent alumni and was pleased with their quick and enthusiastic replies. Some were optimistic in their predictions as they relate to digital technologies and their industries.

“I think every facet of the digital world is going to expand,” said Michael Knop, a 2019 graduate of Texas State’s Digital Media Innovation (DMI) program and digital team lead at EBQ, a marketing support company for the tech industry. “With COVID and lockdowns, we have seen such a big shift in how we live our lives. People are more engaged digitally than ever, and businesses have had to adapt and establish much stronger digital presences than they have before.”

Ashley Romo graduated this summer with the DMI degree and is a social media coordinator at Khoros, a customer engagement platform company. She feels that some trends that originated with the pandemic will become commonplace. “We have continued to see growth in the digital industry during the COVID-19 pandemic as companies are relying more on the virtual experience for their existing customers and to expand their audience,” Romo said. “I predict this trend will continue, as companies have had to adapt to the virtual landscape, and customers will, or already have, become accustomed to the accessibility and conveniences.”

Sonia Garcia is a senior producer for the news startup Austonia.com. She graduated with the DMI degree in May. “I believe 2021 will continue to bring forth new ways to imagine news,” said Garcia. “In 2020, we saw multiple local organizations redesign their clunky news sites. In a pandemic, the way readers consume news on their phones is so important. “

“In 2021, I think we will see established organizations trying to catch up with the newer, more innovative organizations, to begin thinking about news as a product,” Garcia continued.

Some linked future success to cultural and social change.

“Media organizations will continue their push toward better diversity, equity, and inclusion in various capacities, from hiring practices, employee resource groups, internal corporate initiatives, and even some consumer-facing products,” said Sean Smith, a designer and front-end developer at Gannett in Austin. “With that push, however, will come stronger scrutiny and skepticism from audiences around an organization’s efforts and from an organization’s own members. Cross-organizational collaboration between product, human resources, ethics, and reporting teams will be necessary to see DE&I initiatives succeed.” Smith received a master’s degree in our program with a concentration in digital media in 2019.

Thomas Hodge is a creative hybrid at Pereira O’Dell advertising agency. “Pop culture will have an effect on everything we develop in the digital space, including applications, social media, and businesses,” Hodge said. “The younger generation wants to be able to connect and relate to businesses and their brands.” Hodge is a 2016 Electronic Media graduate, one of the first students to achieve our Digital Media concentration.

Hodge also addressed changes to work processes. “COVID has changed working entirely, but the silver-lining for some jobs is that it is now proven that work — and the vast majority of it —can be done from anywhere,” Hodge said. “Now, this will change how companies decide how and where to work.”

He offered questions to consider regarding how real estate savings could be better redistributed. “How else can companies better utilize their funds? Better benefits? Better pay? More hires?” he asked.

I allowed for anonymous comments, in order to get the most candid assessments. One responder was cautious about the potential for acceptance of emerging media platforms.

“Product and innovation teams will continue pushing their organizations to adapt to, catch up to or perhaps even get ahead of emerging media trends like audio storytelling, augmented reality and data interactives, and using APIs to automate wide-scale content syndication,” one anonymous responder said. “Unfortunately, they’ll also likely be stalled either by corporate bureaucracy or traditional newsroom silos.”

“‘Traditional’ reporters and editors need to understand that they’re surrounded by resources that can elevate their journalism into something deeply experiential and meaningful for their audiences,” the responder continued. “While it’s understandable that content shifted back to the expected, easy, status-quo workflow when the pandemic disrupted everything, this time could be used to revolutionize the way news is produced.”

What advice did these young professionals have for others who will soon be graduating and seeking employment in still challenging times? Some emphasized breadth of competencies.

“Get comfortable with everything digital,” Knop said. “Having experience in a wide variety of things is very valuable.”

“Be a sponge. I have been told consistently that companies are attracted to me because my background is so diverse to come from a journalism program that teaches coding, shooting and editing video and Adobe creative programs,” Hodge said. “They’re like ‘what can’t you do?’ It’s not enough, in my opinion, to specialize in one thing and not know anything else.”

The breadth of competencies should also include cultural awareness.

“I would rather work with someone who knows a little about a lot of things and can introduce me to new things, than a person who specializes in one, not being to tell me what’s hot right now, what’s about to be the next big thing or just have a finger on the pulse of technology,” Hodge continued.

Some responders emphasized the reciprocal value of networking.

“My advice would be to find people who are in the position and/or company you’re interested in and reach out to them on LinkedIn,” Romo said. “People are so much more willing to help than we often assume, and a lot of companies offer referral bonuses, so it’s also in their favor to help you.”

“You will likely also get some insight about the company culture based on how you’re responded to, which may even help you determine if it’s a company you want to be a part of or not,” Romo continued.

Many recommended being open-minded when applying for positions and the importance of continuous learning to keep skills up to date.

“Apply for a job even if you don’t meet all of the requirements,” said Jacklyn Mann, a 2018 DMI graduate and marketing automation specialist at e-commerce platform BigCommerce. “Work on getting certifications and utilize LinkedIn learning,”

Juan Garcia Jimenez graduated in July 2020 with the DMI degree and is a full-stack web developer at Wytec International, Inc., a 5G telecommunication company. “Code during your free time and learn to be ok with not knowing everything,” said Garcia Jimenez. “I think coding has so many possibilities to solve a problem that it challenges you to be creative with your approach to the solution.”

But don’t discount those communication skills.

“During interviews try your best to also market your communication skills rather than just your coding skills,” Garcia Jimenez continued. “Communication skills are a bigger asset than any coding skills you might have.”

Several emphasized the importance of being flexible and taking initiative.

“Don’t expect your title to define what you do, nor should you let it,” Smith said. “It’s crucial to be able to hop into a project and use soft skills to solve problems.”

With flexibility, however, should come some insight on priorities. “It’s less important to know 20 different JavaScript libraries and more important to know if the data you’re presenting in an interactive is misleading or has enough context for the audience to understand it,” Smith continued. “You can always learn more or new ways to code, but not everyone can effectively ask ‘why’ a project is being done a certain way.”

Garcia’s time at Austonia.com has proven the value of initiative. She started with the organization as an audience development producer in June 2020 but recently moved up to a leadership role. She offered this advice. “Be ambitious and flexible — but professional and calm,” Garcia said. “Stop waiting for things to happen and be the change. The media is a tough industry, so to be in this industry, you have to buckle down and do this because you want to.”

In summary, these young professionals are approaching 2021 with optimism, adaptability, and a broad digital appreciation, with a measure of caution. Reading these insights made me hopeful for the year ahead, that our future was in good hands, even though there will be challenges to overcome.

The alumni above represent a range of innovative opportunities for those with broad digital awareness from a communication perspective. If you’re on the faculty of a journalism or media program, I hope you will take these comments to heart and assess the level to which your program is introducing digital innovation concepts for the benefit of your students. And all organizations should recognize the wide range of competencies their companies will need for continued success.

Now, more than ever, as we enter 2021, media professionals will need to be broadly prepared, flexible, and ready to contribute to innovation, so they can be and remain employed and their industries will remain sustainable.

Cindy Royal is a professor and director of the Media Innovation Lab at Texas State University.

Raney Aronson-Rath   To get past information divides, we need to understand them first

Renée Kaplan   Falling in love with your subscription

Taylor Lorenz   Journalists will learn influencing isn’t easy

Benjamin Toff   Beltway reporting gets normal again, for better and for worse

Francesca Tripodi   Don’t expect breaking up Google and Facebook to solve our information woes

Sara M. Watson   Return of the RSS reader

Marissa Evans   Putting community trauma into context

Imaeyen Ibanga   Journalism gets unmasked

Sumi Aggarwal   News literacy programs aren’t child’s play

Anna Nirmala   Local news orgs grasp the urgency of community roots

Jim Friedlich   A newspaper renaissance reached by stopping the presses

Sue Cross   A global consensus around the kind of news we need to save

Joni Deutsch   Local arts and music make journalism more joyous

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   The download, podcasting’s metric king, gets dethroned

Jonas Kaiser   Toward a wehrhafte journalism

Gabe Schneider   Another year of empty promises on diversity

Nicholas Jackson   Blogging is back, but better

María Sánchez Díez   Traffic will plummet — and it’ll be ok

José Zamora   Walking the talk on diversity

Ray Soto   The news gets spatial

Danielle C. Belton   A decimated media rededicates itself to truth

Marie Shanahan   Journalism schools stop perpetuating the status quo

Jennifer Choi   What have we done for you lately?

Doris Truong   Indigenous issues get long-overdue mainstream coverage

Hossein Derakhshan   Mass personalization of truth

Nabiha Syed   Newsrooms quit their toxic relationships

Bo Hee Kim   Newsrooms create an intentional and collaborative culture

Talmon Joseph Smith   The media rejects deficit hawkery

Tshepo Tshabalala   Go niche

Candis Callison   Calling it a crisis isn’t enough (if it ever was)

Ariane Bernard   Going solo is still only a path for the few

David Chavern   Local video finally gets momentum

Anthony Nadler   Journalism struggles to find a new model of legitimacy

Catalina Albeanu   Publish less, listen more

Linda Solomon Wood   Canada steps up for journalism

Natalie Meade   Journalism enters rehab

Samantha Ragland   The year of journalists taking initiative

Matt DeRienzo   Citizen truth brigades steer us back toward reality

Ben Werdmuller   The web blooms again

Michael W. Wagner   Fractured democracy, fractured journalism

Chicas Poderosas   More voices mean better information

Brandy Zadrozny   Misinformation fatigue sets in

Rachel Schallom   The rise of nonprofit journalism continues

Mariano Blejman   It’s time to challenge autocompleted journalism

Garance Franke-Ruta   Rebundling content, rebuilding connections

Kawandeep Virdee   Goodbye, doomscroll

Victor Pickard   The commercial era for local journalism is over

Pablo Boczkowski   Audiences have revolted. Will newsrooms adapt?

Sonali Prasad   Making disaster journalism that cuts through the noise

Aaron Foley   Diversity gains haven’t shown up in local news

Hadjar Benmiloud   Get representative, or die trying

John Davidow   Reflect and repent

Steve Henn   Has independent podcasting peaked?

Rick Berke   Virtual events are here to stay

Stefanie Murray and Anthony Advincula   Expect to see more translations and non-English content

Don Day   Business first, journalism second

Pia Frey   Building growth through tastemakers and their communities

Kristen Muller   Engaged journalism scales

Bill Adair   The future of fact-checking is all about structured data

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   Stop pretending publishers are a united front

L. Gordon Crovitz   Common law will finally apply to the Internet

Sam Ford   We’ll find better ways to archive our work

Ernie Smith   Entrepreneurship on rails

Chase Davis   The year we look beyond The Story

Zizi Papacharissi   The year we rebuild the infrastructure of truth

Mike Caulfield   2021’s misinformation will look a lot like 2020’s (and 2019’s, and…)

Jessica Clark   News becomes plural

Rishad Patel   From direct-to-consumer to direct-to-believers

Basile Simon   Graphics, unite

Masuma Ahuja   We’ll remember how interconnected our world is

Marcus Mabry   News orgs adapt to a post-Trump world (with Trump still in it)

Nico Gendron   Ask your readers to help build your products

Amara Aguilar   Journalism schools emphasize listening

Celeste Headlee   The rise of radical newsroom transparency

Laura E. Davis   The focus turns to newsroom leaders for lasting change

Parker Molloy   The press will risk elevating a Shadow President Trump

Joanne McNeil   Newsrooms push back against Ivy League cronyism

Andrew Ramsammy   Stop being polite and start getting real

Joshua Darr   Legislatures will tackle the local news crisis

A.J. Bauer   The year of MAGAcal thinking

Rachel Glickhouse   Journalists will be kinder to each other — and to themselves

Alfred Hermida and Oscar Westlund   The virus ups data journalism’s game

Ben Collins   We need to learn how to talk to (and about) accidental conspiracists

Alyssa Zeisler   Holistic medicine for journalism

John Ketchum   More journalists of color become newsroom founders

Errin Haines   Let’s normalize women’s leadership

Ståle Grut   Network analysis enters the journalism toolbox

Gonzalo del Peon   Collaborations expand from newsrooms to the business side

Nisha Chittal   The year we stop pivoting

Julia B. Chan and Kim Bui   Millennials are ready to run things

Patrick Butler   Covid-19 reporting has prepared us for cross-border collaboration

Nikki Usher   Don’t expect an antitrust dividend for the media

Loretta Chao   Open up the profession

Rodney Gibbs   Zooming beyond talking heads

Jacqué Palmer   The rise of the plain-text email newsletter

Mike Ananny   Toward better tech journalism

Christoph Mergerson   Black Americans will demand more from journalism

Colleen Shalby   The definition of good journalism shifts

Matt Skibinski   Misinformation won’t stop unless we stop it

Moreno Cruz Osório   In Brazil, a push for pluralism

Brian Moritz   The year sports journalism changes for good

M. Scott Havens   Traditional pay TV will embrace the disruption

Jean Friedman-Rudovsky and Cassie Haynes   A shift from conversation to action

Ariel Zirulnick   Local newsrooms question their paywalls

John Garrett   A surprisingly good year

Ashton Lattimore   Remote work helps level the playing field in an insular industry

Tamar Charney   Public radio has a midlife crisis

Jeremy Gilbert   Human-centered journalism

Robert Hernandez   Data and shame

Shaydanay Urbani and Nancy Watzman   Local collaboration is key to slowing misinformation

David Skok   A pandemic-prompted wave of consolidation

Eric Nuzum   Podcasting dodged a bullet in 2020, but 2021 will be harder

Edward Roussel   Tech companies get aggressive in local

Meredith D. Clark   The year journalism starts paying reparations

Delia Cai   Subscriptions start working for the middle

Zainab Khan   From understanding to feeling

Astead W. Herndon   The Trump-sized window of the media caring about race closes again

Burt Herman   Journalists build post-Facebook digital communities

Whitney Phillips   Facts are an insufficient response to falsehoods

Richard J. Tofel   Less on politics, more on how government works (or doesn’t)

John Saroff   Covid sparks the growth of independent local news sites

Andrew Donohue   The rise of the democracy beat

Francesco Zaffarano   The year we ask the audience what it needs

Cherian George   Enter the lamb warriors

Cory Haik   Be essential

Sarah Marshall   The year audiences need extra cheer

Jody Brannon   People won’t renew

Logan Jaffe   History as a reporting tool

Alicia Bell and Simon Galperin   Media reparations now

Jesse Holcomb   Genre erosion in nonprofit journalism

james Wahutu   Journalists still wrongly think the U.S. is different

Charo Henríquez   A new path to leadership

Megan McCarthy   Readers embrace a low-information diet

Mark S. Luckie   Newsrooms and streaming services get cozy

Heidi Tworek   A year of news mocktails

Jennifer Brandel   A sneak peak at power mapping, 2073’s top innovation

Janet Haven and Sam Hinds   Is this an AI newsroom?

Tim Carmody   Spotify will make big waves in video

Jer Thorp   Fewer pixels, more cardboard

An Xiao Mina   2020 isn’t a black swan — it’s a yellow canary

Annie Rudd   Newsrooms grow less comfortable with the “view from above”

Ryan Kellett   The bundle gets bundled

Julia Angwin   Show your (computational) work

Cindy Royal   J-school grads maintain their optimism and adaptability

Kerri Hoffman   Protecting podcasting’s open ecosystem

C.W. Anderson   Journalism changed under Trump — will it keep changing under Biden?

Kevin D. Grant   Parachute journalism goes away for good

Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli   Defund the crime beat

Beena Raghavendran   Journalism gets fused with art

Cory Bergman   The year after a thousand earthquakes

Tanya Cordrey   Declining trust forces publishers to claim (or disclaim) values

Tonya Mosley   True equity means ownership

Mandy Jenkins   You build trust by helping your readers

Sarah Stonbely   Videoconferencing brings more geographic diversity

Kate Myers   My son will join every Zoom call in our industry

Nonny de la Pena   News reaches the third dimension

Mark Stenberg   The rise of the journalist-influencer