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May 1 / King Kaufman

Jay Rosen’s Reddit AMA: What are you doing that’s valuable?

NYU journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen took part in a Reddit Ask Me Anything this week, and as you might expect, several of his answers should be very interesting to students or early-career journalists.

Rosen, who has about 137,000 followers on Twitter, is an advisor to the news startup First Look Media, which was founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and features writing stars such as Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi.

I particularly liked two questions Rosen answered about what aspiring journalists should be thinking about and working on:

Professor, what are the three essential tools for a budding journalist today? (For reporters across all platforms, that is).


  1. You need to be a superior writer and user of the language. I’m talking about grammar, style, fluency and avoiding cliches. This is by far the most important “tool,” regardless of platform.
  2. You need to know how to get information that isn’t just lying around. How to dig, how to locate stuff, how to find out.
  3. You need to understand how information spreads on the internet and becomes part of common conversation.

As a Canadian journalism student, I find myself trying to stay at the forefront of every skill that people tell me will get me hired once I graduate. But it’s hard to know what will be useful and what is wasting my time.

In your opinion, which skills should I focus on? What skills do you think aren’t regularly mentioned that will become very important for journalists in the next 5 or so years?

When I give advice on skills, I don’t go for your way of framing the question.

My advice: Get yourself into a real, live “journalistic situation” using digital tools. A journalistic situation, as I define it, is when real people are actually relying on you for their news of… You offer them regular updates and a sense of understanding in a given story field or niche. That advice is explained further here.

As for skills: focus on the skills you most need to get better in the concrete journalistic situation you got yourself into by following my earlier advice.

I also like the way Rosen frames the problem facing both individual journalists and organizations trying to do journalism, whether it’s in news, sports or any other field. Listen carefully here:

The problem facing journalism is not one of participation. It’s an outsourcing, of sorts, in content production to free sources (people) that, I would argue, is leading to a devaluing of professional journalism. If a news outlet can slap an engaging headline on an article that some random person wrote, then why should that news outlet pay a professional to produce an article?

What can journalists do compete with free sources of content?

If some random person can do pretty well for free what you were doing before for pay then perhaps what you were doing before wasn’t valuable enough.

If what you’re saying is the “random person” produces crap, but the company doesn’t care, then you’re really asking: what do we do about crappy companies who don’t care about the quality of the goods they offer the public?

Look, the users are not your enemy. People are going to put to work the publishing tools they have in their possession. You can’t stop them and why would you want to? The burden is on professional journalists to make products so good no “random person” could do it.

That’s a very basic statement, maybe even an obvious one, but it’s one that I think gets overlooked or ignored too often. The question we should all be asking ourselves is: What are we doing that’s “valuable enough”? How are we standing out from the crowd?