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UPDATED

New York Times Insider has a fascinating piece by Gretchen Morgenson on how she broke into journalism, switched to a Wall Street job, and parleyed her “workingman’s M.B.A.” into a position as a finance columnist for the Paper of Record. It’s a model of the job-hunt process I described this week to students pondering their futures.

In my last week as a journalism teacher at Auburn University this week, I advised my students about how to hunt for journalism jobs. The venn diagram for this is one circle consisting of “Great jobs” and another consisting of “Great places to live.” One hopes you’d be able to find a job where the circles overlap. If not, you have to decide which is more important and work your way toward a position in which you are able to have both.

How do you get a job at the New York Times? Your first option is to be so good they can’t ignore you right now because you have your professors’ highest recommendations, you’ve had one or more prestigious internships, and have the skills, talent and drive to succeed at the Times right now. If you haven’t done all that, then you need to become so good they can’t ignore you. That includes finding out where the Times hires from and what skills and experience they want you to have, then do all you can to attain them.

Building a career in journalism works a lot like a baseball player working one’s way up through the minor leagues to the majors. If you’re pretty good but inexperienced, you can move from Single-A to Double-A to Triple-A to the Major Leagues incrementally. For me, that meant a few years in Double-A (papers with circulations between 20,000 and 42,000) to Triple A (a paper around 80,000 circulation) to the majors (where I finally started earning something approximating middle-class pay).

It also helps to start with the goal in mind.

When I started out, I wanted to work at the Des Moines Register or the Oregonian. So I found out the “feeders,” papers that were stepping stones to them, then made it my mission to get good enough that my work would be noticed and I could move up.

Funny things happen on the way to your destination, though. Your goals can change.

I discovered I liked being a big cog in a smaller machine in a more laid-back Western culture rather than a little cog in a big machine in a more formal work culture. Realizing that led me to leave Des Moines after I got there as a senior copy editor and go to the Santa Fe New Mexican, which I sincerely believe was the best community newspaper in the United States in the years I was there. When an editor at the Oregonian asked if I’d like to work there, I was too in love with what I was doing in Santa Fe to leave.

So you never know how your goals will change. Doing well for myself was important to me from the start, but doing good for others through journalism became too important for me to want to leave New Mexico at that time.

The American Dream is to better one’s condition throughout life. Morgenson shows you can do a lot of good for others while doing well. Her example shows you don’t always arrive at your ultimate destination on your first try. Life is full of transitions.

Speaking of transitions, I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge one of my own. I taught my last sessions at Auburn University this week, and I have thoroughly enjoyed working with my great students and colleagues at Auburn University. It’s been gratifying to see how much so many journalism students have grown in my time here.

For my next chapter, I’m on my way to the Motor City to take a tenure-track position as an assistant professor at Wayne State University, where I’ll be joining some old friends from my M.A. days at the Missouri School of Journalism and making a whole bunch of new friends in a program that’s deeply committed to hard news and diversity. Detroit has a great, innovative culture, and in teaching Multimedia Journalism this semester, the innovation bug bit me HARD.

Thanks, Auburn, for hiring me out of my doctoral program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and giving me the opportunity to grow as a teacher and scholar. I’ll always have a warm place in my heart for the Loveliest Village on the Plains.

UPDATED WITH MORE MAP LINKS

The Multimedia Journalism students are finding out how useful and straightforward Google Maps Engine is as an online storytelling tool. Each created a map of five places on a subject relevant to the topics of their blogs.

The maps are an interactive version of an old standby of static print infographics: the locator map. Locators have a simple ingredients list: Headline, chatter, base map, place labels, and descriptions accompanying each place label. The difference with Google Maps Engine is that you get the gift of interactivity: Users can see pointer boxes with names and descriptions pop up as they hover the cursor over a list of place names.

The five-place Google Maps assignment is appropriate as an introductory exercise in interactive mapping for beginning multimedia journalists for these reasons:

  • It challenges students to conceive of a piece they find interesting and (hopefully) that their readers will also find intriguing.
  • It requires that they do the kind of research that will be expected of them in the newsrooms that will hire them after graduation.
  • It gives them an opportunity to put to use what they learned in the step-by-step, in-class Google Maps tutorial, the Kansas City barbecue map. Hey, I’m a Kansas City boy, but some things translate well from the Midwest to the South, and barbecue is one of them. So we can almost all relate to the subject.

Here’s what the students cooked up this week:

Google Maps Engine is not hard to use, once you understand what it does and how it works. The technical questions are not difficult; the challenge, as I discovered when I sat in on the international hackathon session at Auburn University’s computer science program last fall, is figuring out a journalistic use for it.

Coders provide the conduit, and it is powerful work that they do. Journalists provide the ideas for content to flow through the conduit. Technical thinkers and journalistic thinkers complement each other. Especially now, we need each other.

I’m proud of how much my Multimedia Journalism students have built their technical skillsets while flexing their storytelling muscles these last 16 weeks. May they evangelize new media thinking in the newsrooms they join in the near future. They’re smart, they love storytelling, and they’ve demonstrated a capacity for problem solving and tenacity. Editors , directors and station managers, you need these young people. Hire them!

I’ve settled back into the routine in Auburn now after spending three days conventioneering at the Online News Association conference in Atlanta. This will be a brief post since I have a ton of grading to return to, but these are my main takeaways:

  • The technological wonders never cease for info gatherers: From the fledgling journalism drone programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Missouri School of Journalism to wearable sensors, innovative means of gathering information are popping up at every turn. The next challenge is figuring out how news organizations can put them to use (as well as figuring out how to fight government efforts to curb our adoption of these technologies, which Matt Waite of Nebraska explained in detail at the Knight Village on the convention’s Midway).
  • Nor do the possibilities for sharing data visually: I came out of ONA13 with a renewed enthusiasm for the integration of visuals with data and in a fit of irrational exuberance, I signed up for Alberto Cairo’s current MOOC on infographics and data visualization out of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. I’m two weeks late into a four-week course, but he kindly assured me I didn’t need to worry about doing the homework since a lot of folks just sign up to see the course materials. I deeply appreciate his willingness to share since I’ll incorporate some of it into the multimedia journalism course I teach in the spring. This will give me a sense of best practices to apply to the stuff I learned last week about using TileMill and Google Fusion Tables for mapping data.
  • Collaboration is king: Journalists don’t have to be coders, and coders don’t have to be journalists. But it sure does help if we know each other’s language, values and guiding principles. I’ll be collaborating with a team of Auburn University coders and reporting students on a hackathon next month. Do I know code? Only in the most rudimentary way, though I’m learning more all the time. But I have done research about journalism and migration, which happens to be where the team needs expertise since that’s the subject of the hackathon. Right place, right time, right connections.
  • Journalists must master data or data will master them: The highlight of the convention for me was the Friday keynote address by Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight. His topic: Eight Cool Things Journalists Need to Know about Statistics. So many people live-tweeted about it at the event, myself included, that it made sense to make a Storify story about it. The link is below. I hope you enjoy it!

Change is not the new normal. Change has always been normal.  That applies to the ways we gather information, process it, disseminate it, and make sense of the information others have reported for us. Technologies change, and with them, so do we. That doesn’t mean we must betray our values as journalists. Journalism values endure.

Mike Szvetitz, sports editor for the Opelika-Auburn News and one of the news professionals who teaches in Auburn University’s journalism program, told the Auburn Society of Professional Journalists chapter tonight about his life as a sports journalist. He emphasized the enduring values of journalism, the need to be accurate and accountable, to report without fear or favor, and his belief that it is better to be second and right than first and wrong. Of course, he said, it’s best to be both first AND right. But you can’t have everything sometimes.

Szvetitz said these values hold up even amid rapid changes in the technologies of reporting and storytelling. It is vital for all reporters to be able to do multimedia reporting as well write stories for print. The demand for these competencies is a response to audience demand, and it’s a delicate balancing act.

Yes, he said, audiences still want long-form features. Yes, they want to hear sound bites from the players, at least to a degree. People will listen to as much of Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn as you put online, but not everybody is as interesting as he is. What online audiences really want, though, is to see what the quarterback looks like calling the play, taking the snap, fading back and passing the ball, and they will click on that 10-second clip again and again and again so they have ammunition with which to argue about the QB’s technique.

What’s going on with that? As I see it, the written report gives the audience knowledge and understanding and a good story. The multimedia clip gives them something to get involved with, something to get angry or overjoyed about, something to react to viscerally. Marshall McLuhan had it right when he wrote in the 1960s that these new media are extensions of the human nervous system that mimic the function of our senses.

New media inform us, they entertain us, and they can evoke emotional responses. They reach in through our eyes and ears and touch our emotions, conjuring joy, fear, jealousy, anger, compassion, satisfaction, and so on. The power of multimedia is the power to help us sense what it’s like to be where the news is, and to feel what the people in the story are feeling. What we feel in a story, we remember.

When multimedia and online systems emerged in newsrooms, many rank-and-file journalists regarded them as risky because they were unproven. There was no rulebook, and that was a problem to the risk-averse who had been steeped in a culture in which the best way to keep your job was to not risk surprising one’s editor and publisher. We’ve gotten over our aversion to this “new” medium after a decade and a half of dithering, and journalists are finally learning to love it. Perhaps we wouldn’t have dragged our feet if we just remembered that even if the field was different, we could still apply our journalism values to it.

The last great technological disruption before the Internet came from television, a risky medium in which Edward R. Murrow saw great potential. The previous great disruption came from radio, a medium Walter Cronkite embraced with gusto. Incidentally, why did he lose his job at KCMO-AM in Kansas City, Mo.? Journalism values. He was fired because he refused to follow his boss’s orders and air a story before he could check out the facts. He landed on his feet, joined United Press (which became UPI), became a star reporter during World War II, and was recruited to work for Murrow at CBS.

What does that historical antecedent teach the postmodern journalist? Though no rulebook exists for this newly invented game of online and multimedia journalism we now play, we can always fall back on principles and journalism values. In the long run, being right and second will serve you better than being first and wrong — regardless of the medium.

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