NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

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A news employee wears a lot of hats, especially on a small, student-run paper like this one. That can be a really good thing! It’s a great opportunity to learn a whole lot of valuable skills and acquire some very useful knowledge.

To take the best possible advantage of that, there are some other skills you’ll want to keep in mind.
Getting good at things is a skill you can get good at. It’s called rapid skill acquisition — you can learn how to identify the core principles in any discipline, and, with a little time, effort and enthusiasm, get pretty good at it. Not great. Maybe not even professional. But good enough that you could put it on your resume.

If you sign up for the Observer (and there are openings) you’ll have the opportunity to get reasonably competent in some very valuable computer skills. You’ll get experience with programs like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop, and with WordPress.

These are the programs that professionals use to edit photos, to design publications. They’re very powerful programs, and one of the things you should keep in mind is that if you think something ought to be possible using them, there’s a really good chance that it is. You may have to do some Googling to figure out what the feature is called, where to find it and how to use it. (Though with experience you’ll get the hang of exploring to find the things you’re looking for.)

But when you know it should be there, you’ll often be able to figure out where to find it.
Also: Learn keyboard shortcuts. You can’t imagine how much time you’ll save.

You can also learn how to Google. Like, really Google. It’s one of the best research skills you can develop for getting good introductiory information about any given topic.

I’ll let you do some digging on your own but the main points are: use search settings to narrow your range; learn search modifiers (putting site:[url] returns only results from a particular website. Putting a phrase in quotation marks returns only results that contain those words in exactly that order.); and word choice.

Word choice is possibly the most powerful one. Definitely a good one to learn as a writer: get the hang of guessing what other people would say about the thing you want to find, and you’ll be able to effectively search for it. (And you’ll be better at writing about things in a way that helps people find it. Which is called Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. Which is a skill you can put on your resume.)

In some small part, journalism is about becoming a kind-of-expert on a dozen things a week for long enough to explain the basic idea to non-experts. That’s a really cool thing to be able to do! And it’s a thing you can learn how to do, and get better at.

It’s really important to understand that you can improve your ability to acquire skills, and you can improve your ability to learn and use information.