My “do it yourself” education in digital media

It was 2008 when I first decided my career path would move into the digital media side of journalism.

I had already dabbled in digital media by serving on the admin team of the reader forum for The Monroe News. I also had launched a personal finance site that was well on its way to becoming our newspaper’s most successful blog.

But there was no clear career path for this emerging role.

The assumptions were that such a person would already have information technology skills and ideas and bring them to the newsroom.

I had a knack for computer skills and an interest in the Internet, with early adopter “street cred” that included building a couple of hobby websites in the late 1990s. I did not, however, have what would be considered the latest I.T. training. Because of that and unrelated staffing issues, I decided to sit out the job opening and consider that as a next step in the future.

After the person who was initially hired was no longer with our company, we went into a “learn as you go” mode encouraging anyone who was interested to try something and share with the others any ideas or what they found had worked. Text and Skype messages, a Google doc to share links, and ad hoc meetings throughout the week were the building blocks for what became our digital media procedures; while our digital media manager attended conferences and I would follow blogs and Twitter chats on social media and new journalism.

In fall 2014, I was invited to meet with a college student who was considering career options to explain what a digital media producer does for a news organization. We did not refill that position full time at The Monroe News; instead, the duties for that role were split among various people. But I had years of experience handling it on a part-time basis. I looked on for job descriptions to give the college student, told her “Every newsroom needs someone like this,” and we had a good discussion.

That sparked my interest in researching what else I could do to become the ideal candidate for such work full time, should the opportunity come up.

I could not afford either the time or the expense to go to graduate school, but I did learn there are some practical, free and low-cost options for training in this genre. I found this information based on certification programs that I was noticing in job descriptions or on LinkedIn profiles and in recommendations from people I follow in social media.

For all practical purposes, a constant pursuit of knowledge is necessary in this field. Best practices frequently change based on which apps and technology are considered up and coming; paired with whatever tactics are declared by consensus and experience to be “no longer working.”

But any training at all is a good building block for whatever comes next.

As of August 2015, I have completed numerous webinars and modules from:

  • Poynter’s News U.
  • Hubspot. (This program updates every year).
  • Hootsuite.
  • Canva.

And I’m currently working on Kate Buck Jr.’s Social Media Manager Pro course.

I also knew from working on various professional and personal projects over the years that digital media is temporary. Links expire, websites go down, authors and journalists change beats. I’d bookmark or pin articles, sometimes download them to my computer, but couldn’t always find exactly what I saved.

That’s why, about that time, I started printing off the best examples, how to resources and checklists to save in a more permanent manner. I have them sorted and saved in a series of pink binders by topic.

Why pink? My home office is pink.

Besides, my other office binders are all white or black depending on their project contents.

pink binders
These pink binders are my “DIY” manuals for social media.

— Paula Wethington


Author: Paula Wethington

Paula Wethington works on the digital side of journalism for The Monroe News in Monroe, Michigan.

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