In the 21st century, as some experts will argue, you do not have to worry about permanent employment, but permanent employability. Permanent employability is what makes you relevant anywhere, anytime and in any organization. One profession in which I find this statement to be true is journalism. The most important word in my opinion for both practicing and would-be journalists is skill acquisition. A combination of factors like the revolution in information and communication technology, the emergence of social media like Facebook and twitter, the economic turmoil forcing media organisations to cut their budgets, the pressure on print and broadcast media to refocus their business models in order to attract advertising have made media organisations to be very selective in their recruitment of staff. So what are these skills that you need to acquire in order to increase your chances of securing employment, and make more impact in the practice of journalism?
The first is language acquisition. Whether in the broadcast or the print media, language is the key instrument. Apart from your own native language, combining two international languages at the same standard will make you a hot cake by media employers. Try and combine at least two international languages, either English and Arabic, Arabic and French, French and English, and with the way things are moving, a knowledge of Mandarin because of the economic rise of China, Spanish because of the rise of some Latin American countries could be an advantage. For those in Africa an understanding of these international languages with Hausa or Swahili, both of which have international broadcasting organisations transmitting in them could be an added advantage. You can see clearly some examples in today’s newsrooms. The likes of Ghida Fakhry of Aljazeera, Ben Wedeman and Arwa Damon of CNN, BBC’s Zeinab Badawi are examples of the advantage speaking multiple international languages can have on the career of a journalist. In fact some of the ones I have mentioned have a modest understanding of the second language.
The pressure to report stories from areas that provide the raw material of news has made media organizations to rethink the informal policy of having only people with native accent of English, French or Arabic as reporters. The likes of Muhammad Adow of Aljazeera English, and Mannir Dan-Ali, formerly reporting for both BBC Hausa and BBC Focus on Africa are clear examples. Their reports are clear, incisive and analytical. Having both writing and broadcasting ability in these languages can make your CV glitter before employers. It is also an opportunity to showcase your talent and inform the people about issues relevant to them.
The next skill in the 21st century is multimediality. Media organizations are interested in journalists who can adapt to different news platforms. They want a journalist who is good for radio, but will also fit in television. They want journalists who can write analysis on their websites, and at the same time interact with audiences on Facebook and twitter. During the BBC social media summit in 2011, a statement made by the managing editor of the Washington Post, that: why should he employ a journalists who doesn’t have a Facebook and twitter account, instantly became viral on twitter. Using twitter and Facebook, journalists bring audiences to their media organizations which is hitherto unheard of. Journalists like Piers Morgan of CNN have more than three million followers on twitter. Of course you and I are not that in that league, but the few hundreds or thousands of followers that you have could be an added advantage; in fact do not be shy of writing the total number of your followers on your CV, especially if the number is significant. That could be the difference between you and your competitor, especially if the media organization has someone in its management or interview panel like the managing editor of the Washington Post.
A common mistake that some students make is that they hardly do anything to build their experience while in the university. They think graduating with upper second class degree, (2:1), or first class are enough to secure them jobs. Yes, it is good to have a good result, but never underestimate the value of an average student who perhaps graduated with second class lower (2:2), but has multiple skills and practical experience. Those skills that you overlooked could bridge the gap between you and him, and it might take you ages before you catch up with him. So be warned.
To be continued…
Facebook: Muhammad Jameel Yusha’u
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