Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Q&A with a Web editor: Austin American-Statesman

Statesman.com editor Kristi Kingston, one of my colleagues here at the paper who has to put up with me on a daily basis, kindly agreed to answer some of my pesky questions about the job of a Web content producer (at least here at the Statesman) and what she looks for when hiring (which, currently, she is - hiring, that is). Thank you, Kristi!

What is the job of a Web content producer in our newsroom? What does a Web content producer do during their shift, what kinds of shifts are worked; what are the actual tasks carried out? What software or languages do Web content producers typically use?

Serves as the site's news and wire editor (posting stories, making decisions about story and art display, writing headlines and cutlines)
Responds to breaking news (in some cases planning for breaking news)
Builds out centerpieces and packages using photos, graphics, video and other multimedia
Suggests and builds content for the site (multimedia, reader-submitted, etc.)

Web producers most typically use:

Content management system
HTML editing software

I know that you said you'd rather have people who can learn than people with any particular skills. But if you had two candidates in front of you, both were smart, both had journalism backgrounds, but one of them had experience with certain Web-related applications and publishing methods, you'd hire that one, right? What would those skills be? Or are the needs simply changing so fast that it's moot?

For technical skills, I would take the person with HTML (CSS) and other programming languages, strong Photoshop skills and experience with content management systems.

But increasingly the needs are on multimedia skills, particularly Flash, and javascript (for scripting in Flash and elsewhere) and databases.

You said that you'd absolutely require a journalism background. Can you tell me a little more about what you'd consider to be a sufficient background in journalism, and why it's so crucial?

A solid understanding of the principles and ethics of good journalism (and good taste).
A solid understanding of libel laws and the ability to spot it.
Headline, cutline and editing skills.

There are plenty of folks out there with the technical skills to do the mechanics of the job, but it is much harder to teach news judgment. That is something that is developed over time. We could easily convert our site to Us Weekly and see page views skyrocket. We walk a fine line between hard news and entertainment. That old saying "you have to know the rules to break the rules" applies.

These journalism skills do not guarantee a good content producer. They are a minimum. You also have to have someone who is highly organized, able to multitask, responds well to deadline pressure and has the ability to spot a good story when they see it.