So much to learn, so little time: A question for journalism students

I can’t think of a career path that requires a greater variety of skills than journalism.

Really, I can’t.

Coming into the J school, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  In my cloud of unbridled naivete, I assumed I would write.  That’s it.  I would find something to write about and write about it.  Maybe I’d have to read once in a while, but I’ll just be writing, write? right?


While writing is undoubtedly crucial to the success of a journalist, a typical day consists of much, much more.

First, and I would argue most importantly, you have to be a great communicator.

Sound vague?  Well, it is, and I wanted it to be.

As a journalist, you have to be able to communicate through any  medium; it is just as important to be able to talk to somebody face-to-face as it is to write on your computer or conduct a phone interview.  With the constant and rapid expansion of social media, we now have to communicate through other mediums, like Twitter and Facebook as well.

Compounding this, it is important to have skills in popular softwares, like Adobe InDesign and Adobe Photoshop.

So what does this all mean?

Instead of sitting around writing all day like I expected, I am constantly networking, interviewing, learning new technologies, and, of course, writing.

A problem, then, is time management.  As a full time student with other priorities, it is nearly impossible to master each element of successful journalism, so you have to wisely choose which to practice the most.

Which is where I’d like to propose my question:

What do you think is the single most important aspect to a journalist’s professional life?  That is to say, which area of expertise do you think should be most heavily emphasized?

Let me know in a comment or answer the poll; I’d love to hear your thoughts!



  1. All of these elements are crucially important in the field of journalism because a lot of the time you can’t do one without the other. However, I think writing and editing are the most vital components to a journalist because it’s one of the first skills you learn how to master. I still get writer’s blog sometimes, but I try to remember what i’ve learned and stick to it. Also, editing was a challenge when I first started, but now I love it. If you aren’t familiar with how to use Final Cut (technology) or communicate with others (networking) then you aren’t going to get very far because as stated above they’re all important aspects of our field. With that being said, I try to utilize all of these things, like most other journalists but I believe knowing how to write conquers all because everything else can be learned pretty easily.

    • thecoalfist said:

      I tend to agree with you on each account! Writing, to me as well, is the most important piece, but each other piece is vital as well. It’s like asking what piece of a car is most important. Maybe the wheels first, but without a working engine it’s still useless. Even if you have everything except gas the unit as a whole is worthless. I think journalism is a lot like that; you have to be at least proficient in everything and sensational at one thing to really stand out. If you’re sensational at multiple things, you’re golden.

  2. Like you said, all of these are incredibly important, but I’d have to say that reading is the most critical skill in journalism. If you can’t read, you can’t do anything. Often times, learning a new skill involves some level of reading. To master social media you have to be able to read blogs, posts, memes, tweets, etc. and you have to be able to understand them to gain any sensible information from them. You also have to read constantly to keep up with what’s going on and what’s relevant in today’s society. So having proficient reading skills, life being able to skim and still take something away from what you’re reading. Reading well should also help make you a better writer, which is another important aspect to this career.

    • thecoalfist said:

      Great points, and I hadn’t considered reading in that way (learning things through reading). It kind of sounds silly now, but you’re absolutely right. There is no doubt that reading makes you a better writer as well, and that post you linked to was awesome :D. Thanks for chiming in!

  3. Though tempted to click “drinking” I really do believe that networking is the most important skill a journalist can have. Just this weekend I saw the power of it. While doing a story on Good Shepherd Alpaca Farm, my partner and I met a woman who led to another story idea. It works this way all the time; you know someone or meet someone who provides a story or a source. Though things like editing and writing are important they would be nothing without the people we meet and their stories we tell.

  4. I don’t care what anyone says – what gets you ahead in this business is who you know. It’s all about networking. If you have average skills but know the head of the company, you’re in. Most jobs are filled by people who know people. Why? Because you can count on them. And wouldn’t you rather hire someone you know rather than a stranger? And if you know the people at the top, you’re in.

    • thecoalfist said:

      It’s hard for me to disagree with that. I’d like to ask though, do you think it should be like that? This is irrelevant to the post and its conversation, I’m just curious now. 🙂

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