Last Friday the Syracuse SPJ hosted our first of two events for the semester, the Tech Curve panel! Those who attended will know the panel was a great success – we had a strong turnout, our panelists were amazing, and we’re hoping lots of students left the auditorium feeling inspired.

For everyone who couldn’t attend, however, we’ve got a brief overview of all the major lessons and takeaway our panelists gave us. Please look over the lessons and take them to heart!

At least learn how the skills work together.

One major concern is the sheer amount of different skills and tools put in front of journalists today, and not knowing how to master all of them. But even if we can’t learn every one completely, from coding to video to anything else, we should at least learn the language of each one. This means just learning the basics of how they work and what’s involved in the process.

For example, you don’t need to know all the details about how interactives are made if it’s not a speciality of yours. Just all the important names and what they do, so that way you’ll be able to work well with the people who do make them. Once you speak the same language of all the people in the different areas, then you can start collaborating and make something really amazing.

Learn to juggle all the skills at once

Journalists are already known for having little free time amidst their work, and this is more true than ever today. Beating the Tech Curve doesn’t come easy, so expect to focus a lot of your free time on investigating and getting the hang of everything involved. If you’re smart with your time and leave no minutes to waste while you’re working, covering all the different tools will get easier.

Anthony Rotolo gave an example of a broadcast anchor who made 15-second broadcasts on Instragram. He did these, among other tasks on his mobile phone, between commercial breaks. This is a great example of both making full use of one’s time, and finding new things to do with current tools.

If you’re not tech-minded, you need to be

One audience question was how non tech-minded journalists could handle all the new technology skills being asked of us. The simple answer was just that you need to become tech-minded, and there’s really no way around it. Technology has become such a major part of everyday lives, and even more so for journalists today. It’s unavoidable.

However, it’s much easier than everyone thinks, as our panelists agreed it was just a matter of the mind. Everyone has the potential to be tech-minded, they just need to believe and feel confident that they can. The truth is that so many of the important skills are a weekend or week of online practice away in one’s spare time. Then you’ll already have a basic grip on them. Take them all on as a challenge.

Only Prioritize Platforms that help you

With so many social media platforms, it’s not about what platforms to use, it’s about what platforms can help you. Platforms change frequently, and Dan Schultz pointed out that the relevant platforms today will likely be gone in a year or so. So focusing on specific ones and thinking that’s the end of it is wrong.

Instead, focus more on what you want to accomplish with platforms. Make more connections? Share photos? Share video? Join the conversation? Find the platforms that help reach your goals, and always be on the lookout for new ones that can help. Those are the ones to focus on, and that’s it.

Social Networks are about Connections, not Clicks

Social Media is always getting more important, but students shouldn’t use it solely to focus on driving more clicks to their work. The value from social media comes from making connections with other people, and making those connections is what will really drive more traffic and loyalty to one’s site.

If students focus too much on page views, like many publications are today, it drains inspiration and makes what’s published come out flat and forced. Make engagement a priority, not page views.

Think Of All Content Being Equal

Students need to stop thinking of media in the traditional, broadcast way of one-dimensional messages going to a mass audience. That media model is dying and there’s little hope of saving it. Instead, they should look at all online content being equal among everyone to interact with on a large open platform. Instead of journalists giving one-way speeches, it’s an open conversation with the audience. All the regular skills are still relevant, but the delivery and style need to change.

Self-Motivation is the Key to Keep Learning

Last but perhaps most importantly, the big question for our panelists was: how can we start learning this skills and keep learning them after we graduate?

The key is to feel self-motivated to keep learning, even outside of the classroom. Always learning the skills isn’t easy, but finding the resources online is – there are plenty of free tools, beginner tutorials, forums to see what’s new and ask for advice, and mentors either online or on-person that can guide you to any starting points (for Newhouse students, this would be Dan Schultz).

A big surprise from the panel is that no one who learned all these different skills really took a class for them, they just started poking around online and found what they needed. The successful adapters learned it all because they wanted to, investigated on their own time, and after a little searching they found what they were looking for. Students need to want to find those starting points on their own, since without an internal drive to learn it, the skills won’t arrive.

We also handed out a resource list for everyone who attended to help people find these starting points for some of the major areas. You can look them all over and visit them right here, and also feel free to comment with any good ones you think should be added!

Coding

  • Codecademy.com – Interactive tutorials for learning basic coding languages
  • w3Schools.com – Reliable resource for learning all coding languages
  • JSFiddle.net – Great for editing code and previewing the results

Data Visualization

Data Gathering

  • PewResearch.org – A data resource for just about anything
  • Census.gov – Reliable government data on a variety of topics
  • FedStats.Gov – Fact database for more than 100 federal databases
  • ire.org (Investigative Reporters and Editors) – Tools for investigative reporting and data
  • FactFinder2.census.gov – A resource for community facts

Multimedia

We at the Syracuse SPJ really hoped you enjoyed our Tech Curve panel, and keep a lookout for our next event on April 8th (we’ll have more details later!) Until then, remember to keep putting in the little bits of work and searching to overcome the Tech Curve.

Lastly, we can’t forget to mention one moment between the moderator and one of our Newhouse professors that was the highlight of the entire night: