When I was but a young, cub reporter, typing and writing skills were all I needed to land my first jobs.
Technology back in the late 1970s had just entered the digital age. Video display terminals (VDTs) featuring monochrome screens recently had replaced the manual typewriters that still dotted the newsroom.
Covering an out-of-town event on deadline required making a telephone call back to the office from a landline to file the story. There were no fax machines. There were no cell phones. There was no Internet. The reporter in the field would simply dictate their story over the phone to someone in the newsroom, who would type the words into the computer system. That was the only way to do it.
This dynamic was particularly challenging for me at the state high school wrestling tournament. I remember battling the parents for position at the payphones underneath the University of Wisconsin Field House’s bleachers. It was like we were getting position for a rebound. If time was running short, I would have to dictate parts of the story off the top of my head without taking time to type it out first on my portable, manual typewriter.
And yes, the world was black and white, and we took the stagecoach home after the event.
I bring this up because of an ad I noticed recently for a reporter at one of the regional papers. The skill sets listed in the ad didn’t even exist until relatively recently:
“Gannett is seeking a full-time reporter to develop content for (the newspaper) and its website, with an emphasis on education and business reporting. This person is responsible for producing stories and digital content in a deadline situation. The ideal candidate must have a deep appreciation for great local stories, use social media, capture content on a smartphone and pull it all together for the reader. … Knowledge of web-specific skills is important. Mastery of reporting skills is a must. The qualified candidate must also embrace the goal of delivering digital content, including video, and following with a comprehensive local report in print.”
I find it interesting that the written article is an afterthought to producing the video piece. My, how things have changed.
The moral to the story is communications professionals today must diversify their computer skills to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving industry. Reporters today are a hybrid of the old-fashioned print journalists of the past and television reporters.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the need for fast accuracy. There is no substitute for either of those skills, and they will carry over into any job you’ll ever have.