This transition from vertical job descriptions to horizontal job descriptions is perhaps the most profound change in newsrooms that are full of change. I
can't say whether this is a sign of trouble or triumph for journalism. Probably both. But it is definitely a matter of fact.
As an industry, we've come to the point where we are asking a lot of relatively inexperienced twentysomethings, perhaps too much. The range of duties,
combined with the need for speed, can lead to mistakes. But my sense is that there's no going back. The new platforms and the new business environment
demand a shift from more genteel times. The good news is that as much as we expect of these new hires, it's been my experience that they can do the work.
There's a surprising amount of talent and energy and sophistication out there.
Finding this talent marries traditional recruiting methods with an eye toward the new realities. On the traditional side, it still pays to cast a wide net,
even if that means sifting through more than a hundred resumes for every opening. And we're still looking at customary markers of excellence: success in
past jobs, intellectual curiosity, dynamic thinking.
But the new world prizes other skills, too. The best hires possess a kind of creativity and entrepreneurialism that my peers and I surely didn't have at
that age. Today's young web journalists are learning to frame and write stories in innovative ways. And as smart at they are, they're also playful, ready
to bring some fun to the game.
We also look for a candidate's ability to make lateral connections across topics. In interviewing business writers, we might ask about tax policy and
retail trends but we're most interested in how candidates think about non-business topics--and whether they have the instinct to apply a business or
economics lens to everyday subjects. Likewise, we look for what Gabriel Snyder, editor of The Atlantic Wire, calls "keyboard presence." Just as actors can have stage presence and athletes can have field presence, a good web writer is a natural in front of the
And then there's speed. Digital hires ought to be able to move quickly from task to task, keep active multiple windows--on their screens and in their heads.
But not, alas, at the expense of accuracy. In a world where there's typically one layer of editing instead of two or three (or more), you gotta get it
In pursuit of journalists with these new skills, we've found that it can pay to look in unlikely places. Alan Taylor, who oversees The Atlantic's crowd-pleasing "In Focus" photo blog, was a web developer at the Boston Globe when he started assembling image galleries on
the side. James Hamblin, The Atlantic's new health editor, is a medical doctor who came straight out of residency in radiology to join us as a full-time editor and
writer. Neither Alan nor Jim came to us with anything close to a traditional journalism background. But they have the right sensibilities--and the skills to
succeed in a new age.
This post also appears at Folio, where Cohn writes a bimonthly column.