3 insights from BuzzFeed on preparing for jobs in social news

As a faculty member who always is on the quest to help my college media students be better prepared to enter the job market, I’m very interested in what the media job market is.

What the jobs are for college grads? (Many of the current media jobs didn’t exist even a few years ago, like a social media manager. And many of the media jobs that did exist don’t now, like copy editors, in some cases.)

What job skills do students need to be developing? (For example, should we teach students how to create a meme?)

So Monday’s NPR All Tech Considered feature on a day at BuzzFeed caught my attention.

Reporter Audie Cornish spent the day following 24-year-old Matt Stopera, who is a viral Web editor at BuzzFeed. (You can listen to the 8:09 story on NPR.)

Cornish did a good job of capturing the worklife — complete with Stopera getting ready to ride his bike to work — and the topics and tempo of the newsroom — complete with a gong being hit every time an ad contract is signed. The photos of Stopera’s day posted on the NPR website also provided the visual perspective.

What were some take-aways from the story for me as I think about the kinds of media jobs my students may be competing for?

1. Students should develop skills to be a personal aggregator for friends and family.

One of the major parts of the job for the team at BuzzFeed is to figure out how to create a “buzz” about a post. That means knowing what people like to read and — even more important — what kinds of photos and stories people pass along to others via social networks and email.

BuzzFeed’s Stopera read 200 Tumblr posts, blogs and Google Reader updates before he left his Brooklyn apartment at 9 a.m. to head to work at BuzzFeed.

So a useful skill for college students is to read a lot, seeing what the most “liked” or emailed story/photo is, and working on their own skills of collecting/aggregating stories and sending the good ones on to others.

2. Students should develop blogging skills.

Katie Notopoulos, one of the BuzzFeed employees interviewed by Cornish, was a former employee in a public relations firm and blogged as a hobby on sites like Shoes on the Subway. She tells Cornish that she has to remind herself that her real job now is what used to be her hobby — being a voracious reader of the Web and then blogging.

3. Students need to be learning media law and ethics and then determining their own moral compass.

One of the themes of the NPR story is that BuzzFeed is moving into covering politics. BuzzFeed is opening a politics bureau in Washington, partnering with The New York Times to cover the political conventions. Ben Smith, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief, said that moving into politics wasn’t that big of a move from making funny cat videos go viral, as a lot of politics is humorous.

But at what point does the goal of being humorous or wanting a story or photo to go viral make a blogger willing to change the reality and accuracy of the actual event or photo? So it’s important for students to know what the “legacy media” standards have been — not that those guidelines of accuracy and fair play always are followed even by mainstream media.

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