Tips is a series which aims to provide young and early-career science writers with, well, tips to aid them in their budding careers. The series will attempt to link out to existing resources available online.

Today, we feature some tips from people at the forefront of journalism at the Guardian, the Times and others about preparing for life as a journalist of tomorrow. Those tips were published at the Guardians media network.


Journalism, science journalism included, is changing. You know it, I know it, we all know it. So we better prepare for the heralded change. The Guardian features nine tips from five experienced persons (community coordinator, editor, technology correspondent, freelance journalist, developer) who are at the forefront of tomorrow’s journalism, if you will.

Most of the tips they give involve, in one way or the other, making the most of new technology. This makes sense. The mission of the journalist of tomorrow will still be to report the truth. This will not—or indeed, should not—change. What will change are the tools and skills required to actually report that truth.

Hannah Waldram, community coordinator at the Guardian, stresses that news must be reported on the fly. To achieve this, journos of tomorrow must know how to use the available hardware and software which allow just that:

Learn to report in the field and on the fly: I was recently covering the English Defence League protest in the city centre – I was live tweeting, using Audioboo to get short clip interviews with the police, using Bambuser to live stream some video when the protesters broke the police line, while also taking still video on a Kodak HD camera which I knew I could edit and upload later using iMovie and Youtube. I took pictures on my phone and sent them out on Twitter using twitpic and I was also taking notes using shorthand in a notebook so that I had some extra quotes to write up in a more considered report later – I carried my laptop in a rucksack on my back and cycled to the nearest place with Wi-Fi to upload anything I couldn't do live. There I'd also write up a couple of pieces while responding to comments, looking for reaction tweets, videos, confirming numbers with the police and so on. I soon learned to carry everything I needed on my back, and made sure I had pockets (like gadget girl!) to keep all my phones and cameras in. I also learned to make sure everything was fully charged before leaving the house and I knew where the nearest Wi-Fi was – this type of training you can only learn on the job. Always have a pen!

Martin Belam, lead user experience and information architect at the Guardian, says that journos of tomorrow must be able to code:

Learn to code: I think it's good for journalists to get a basic understanding of the principles of how programming works; it can really help you use computers and technology tools to cut out some of the mundane bits of production. I think it's often hard for people to know whether they should be learning language X or language Y and whether they need to be able to build whole websites or applications. I think, as a bare minimum, any journalist entering the profession now should have a good understanding of marking up documents in HTML so they can add links, make lists and put things into bold and italics by hand.

Not all tips aim to convert you into Inspector Gadget. Community journalism and open journalism will become part of the landscape and journos have to adapt, as says Nick Petrie, social media and campaigns editor at the Times:

Community journalism will be very important: Considering the rate at which publications are hiring people to help develop and serve their communities, it is going to become increasingly more important [...] In an age where readers are not loyal to one paper in the way they used to be, developing and maintaining a relationship with readers (engaging them) is key to them coming back – the community aspects of journalism are not a hobby or a passing fad.

But you can do more than just attempt to adapt to the journalism-of-tomorrow model. You can build the model. You can actually make the future, or at least contribute to it. Hence the need to be creative and to experiment. This is what Nick Petrie has to say about experimenting:

Experiment: So many projects you can try are cost-free and low risk. People think journalism is only now experiencing change, but it always has been, it's just faster and talked about more now. Just go and get started – don't look for an excuse not to do something but for a reason to try.

You can read all nine tips for the journalists of tomorrow over at the Guardian’s media network.


Previously in this series:

Tips: Charles Q. Choi’s Website Is A Treasure Cove

Tips: 12 tips from Ann Friedman

Tips: Ed Yong’s On The Origin Of Science Writers