A tech-savvy journalist’s skills can be adapted to fit a number of professions, and Web Project Management is a really good fit. Think about the skill sets a Project Manager needs. Then consider this, a good journalist loves the challenge of researching diverse subjects and can make any topic into something interesting, can find and interpret data, can interview anyone from Edvard Munch to Karl Slover, can ask the right questions, and the right follow-up questions, is easy to talk to, builds professional relationships with a personal touch, writes clearly with integrity, and meets deadlines.
By the way, this isn’t just a good idea of where to look for a qualified PM, this is based in fact – as all good reporting should be.
1. Tools and talent
Consistent with Darwinian science, journalists have been forced to adapt due to a harsh publishing climate. The fittest among them find their way to the places where work can be read, and so, seek shelter and comfort online with Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and any forum they can get their ambitious fingers on in order to survive.
Recent graduates of journalism programs come with an understanding of how social media works, the skills to work it, and the mind-set that allows for quick integration of SEO and analytics reporting into the mix. No handholding required.
Getting published anywhere means saying yes to every opportunity that comes along and networking with influential professionals through social media. Journalists manage multiple projects at a time, self-edit, and make their own luck.
Faced with the stark reality of print publishing, a journalist’s success no longer can be invested in dreams of long nights at the New York Times city desk, sending edits to pre-press with only moments to spare, and someday being the one to yell “stop the presses” and getting a byline on that front-page scoop. Success today means using equal parts talent and tools to find the compelling hook for any subject, communicate clearly, and sustain a passion that is undeniable.
2. Obsessive-compulsive – embrace the benefits
Journalists are perfectionists. Proper grammar and punctuation rules were forced upon them by Dickensian teachers until they learned to catch the smallest mistake. Pride in their work meant becoming their own worst critics. After all, who wants to see their hard work hemorrhaging an editor’s red ink? This kind of obsession is great for a project management team. A journalist with an eye trained to look at detail, and a passion for fact checking will become a valuable ally in catching those small mistakes that are easily overlooked in the rush to completion, only to be found later by the client. To ensure a flawless campaign presentation, it is essential to have someone on the team who will be as nit-picky as the client will likely be.
3. Presentation and content organization – sounding familiar yet?
The foundation of any article, as taught in Journalism 101, is in the way information is structured and organized. Over the course of researching an article, a journalist will collect pages of notes, interviews, observations and random thoughts. Then, all of the bits of paper, recordings, documents and research (books and the internet) are pulled together into one cohesive piece. Journalists are already content organizers, whether or not they are aware of it. They automatically create schedules and set milestones based on meeting a deadline. They have already developed a personal system for researching, organizing and presenting information. Flipping the switch from presenting in the form of an article to that of a website is an easy transformation – especially because journalism programs are currently teaching students to integrate copy with visuals (images and videos) in their reporting.
4. Working with clients, working with the creative team
A good project manager works with the client and the creative team to reach consensus and clearly articulate the project scope. After that, the PM’s loyalty demands advocating for the project. That means that creative concepts are supported and defended when discussed with a client who wants to dabble after sign-off, and that the client’s needs are met by the creative being presented. With a foot in each camp, it can seem that the PM is arguing for both sides. It’s important to remember that a good PM argues for the integrity of the project being delivered, simultaneously keeping in mind the firm’s reputation and profitability.
During certain project phases, a PM will talk to the client more than anyone else – even mom. The client needs to respect and trust the PM from the start. Any Communications graduate should be able to talk to people, but journalists, by way of their interviewing skills, have already mastered making perfect strangers feel comfortable. In an interview, the journalist walks a fine line between friend and professional, making the individual feel comfortable while coaxing information out of them. The same is true for clients. Clients are safe in the hands of a journalist. Because of their experience with diverse personality types and their confidence and poise in the face of a challenge (be it shyness or outright hostility), they can get the job done.
5. Deadlines? Journalists run on deadlines
Journalists are deadline driven. They don’t crack under pressure. In fact, they typically perform best when it comes down to the wire. Likewise, a good project manager needs to remain unruffled in the face of adversity. Journalists are equipped to overcome obstacles. Even new graduates can tell heart-stopping stories of computer failures, cancelled interviews, and any number of seemingly absurd obstacles that inevitably come along at the most inconvenient time. The ability to plan, keep to a schedule, and change it at a moment’s notice are more the rule than exception. Cool and calm, with a sense of humor, an appreciation of irony and the flexibility of Gumby are qualities needed by both PMs and journalists.
What experience shows
The digital world is evolving rapidly, requiring expertise not yet defined at tasks not yet imagined. So how do agencies specializing in digital communication hire those who can do a job with no description, and/or successfully grow into one that doesn’t yet exist? The answer is to abandon specific job experience requirements in favor of focusing on parallel skills and a compatible mind-set. As illustrated, journalists are well suited in temperament and skills to transition to web project management. Keeping this example in mind, what other education tracks provide parallel skills beneficial to growing a full service agency specializing in digital – or any other growing business for that matter? Discuss. . .