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3 Things Journalists Can Teach Themselves Over Vacation

While not all news folk can escape from the news cycle during the holidays, if you’re lucky enough to have a day or few off, put down the cookies and milk and put that time to good use advancing your career. Here are three skills you can reasonably learn — or start learning — over your vacation that can help you do your job better or land a better job. If either of those are your New Years Resolution, take the time now to get a head start.

Lesson: Creating a blog and other basic digital skills

If you’re looking for a job or looking to network, there’s no better time than time off your day job to round up your clips/photos/reel/etc. and corral everything into a simple, personalized blog on WordPress or a similar site. If you want to really show off, or add a few more skills to fill out your resume, Mindy McAdams has done the hard part for you by compiling lessons needed to become baseline multimedia journalists. Her multimedia proficiency guide is a few years old, but these are still good basics to get started on everything from reading RSS feeds to recording and editing video and audio.
http://mindymcadams.com/tojou/2009/rgmp-15-maintain-and-update-your-skills/ (Note this links to the last lesson, the full listing is at the bottom of the post.)

Lesson: Use Excel for data journalism

Knowing the very basics of how to set up a spreadsheet and use the sort feature opens up new possibilities for your stories. Imagine how cool it would be if you could do even more. Even if Excel is outside your (or your newsroom) budget, you can still apply similar skills with free spreadsheet tools, such as Google Docs or Open Office. Dig a little deeper and you’ll soon be requesting government data and mashing up unexpected correlations in pivot tables that tell stories your competition can’t. Trust me when I say pivot tables will change the way you crunch numbers — for the better. Poynter recently posted a detailed explainer on organizing stories/data in Excel. It’s way more detailed than you really need to get started, but it goes from basics to advanced in one sheet, which I like. Don’t get overwhelmed, just dip your toes in and move on when you’re ready. Maybe it will spark some interest in more advanced IRE training?
http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/154584/how-journalists-can-use-excel-to-organize-data-for-stories/

Lesson: Write computer codes

OK, so this isn’t something that will directly translate into your day job (unless maybe you’re on the web team or want to transition that direction), but learning to code can give you some comfort and confidence with computer and web programming languages. It can help you learn the skills to eventually develop apps and websites, and since that’s the direction journalism is headed, these skills could open doors down the line. Codeacademy makes a game of learning to program, which could be fun if you’re into that. But if you want to expand on their lessons, I recommend Carl Herod’s really detailed lessons originally posted on Reddit, which start at the very “Hello World” beginnings and get more complicated and cool from there.
http://codeacademy.com
• http://www.highercomputingforeveryone.com/

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