It’s the time of year for making resolutions, and my internship has played a large part in determining my 2014 goals. My list won’t feature your average set of go-to promises for self-betterment. While I could stand to exercise and lose the “senior 7” that has found its way to my waistline, what I am pursuing will involve a lot of sitting in front of a computer screen. I am describing the process of mastering the digital tools that will make me stand out as a job candidate when I graduate this spring—tools I have uncovered through interviews with technical writers around the state. In a way, this reflection is as much about looking forward as it is about looking back.
If I have learned one thing through my enlightening UCA Writing Department internship, it is that I have a lot to learn. The industry professionals I spoke with all had one thing in common: They value versatility. Successful writers in today’s workplace are renaissance men and women armed with overflowing toolboxes and a willingness to acquire new skills. Fortunately, my intern experience has given me great ideas for how I can become one of these pen-wielding Jacks-of-all-trades.
The first recurring theme I noticed during my interviews was an emphasis on photography and videography skills. As a journalism minor, I am all too familiar with the recent shift toward the “backpack journalist”—a writer who can capture information in multiple media forms. These skills were mentioned in many of my interviews, and for a good reason: Writing, when combined with photography and video, is often more immersive than writing alone. One of my mass communications professors constantly quoted media maven Marshall McLuhan in class, drilling the following maxim into my brain: “The medium is the message.” Along those lines, relevant sources of information in the digital age embrace the vibrant photos and videos that appeal to their audiences.
While I am well aware of the importance of photography and videography skills, I am more or less illiterate. I have always been on the periphery of social circles that excel in these fields, because I have shared space with dozens of talented broadcast journalism and film students in Stanley Russ Hall. Next semester, I will tap into these connections to gain some of my peers’ knowledge. As a mass communications student, I have access to an equipment room brimming with all kinds of cameras. I plan to check some equipment out and embrace one of my favorite learning methods: simply doing. I hope to partner with one of my camera-savvy friends to complete a yet-to-be-determined project and, in turn, learn the basics of both photography and videography.
A second recurring theme I noticed during my interviews was the popularity of the Adobe Creative Suite within the technical writing community. It isn’t enough to simply have an artistic eye for shutter speed, lens selection or filming angles; once you have gathered photos or sequences of footage, you must also be able to manipulate them using editing software. Granted, a number of my interviewees mentioned alternatives like Gimp and Inkscape, but a majority preferred Adobe’s products. From the videos that play on Heifer International’s website to the photos that grace the pages of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce’s business journal, it seems very little is untouched by Adobe’s extensive sets of brushes and filters. If content is king, Adobe is the royal seamstress that makes his highness presentable.
The University of Central Arkansas has done a great job of making the Adobe Creative Suite available to my fellow students and me, but this is an opportunity I haven’t been able to take advantage of. The hectic schedule that accompanies four internships and four semesters as a student journalist is not conducive to the time and attention required to master a single Adobe product, let alone the whole family. My upcoming semester is slated to have a significantly lighter workload, especially since I have stepped down from my role as editor of UCA’s daily online newspaper. With this newfound time, I will focus my attention on gaining a working knowledge of Photoshop, InDesign and Premiere Pro. I will approach this educational challenge in a manner similar to the one I will take for photography and videography. I hope to learn by taking on minor projects and freelance assignments that will serve as training grounds for the projects I will face in the future.
A final recurring theme I observed through my interviews is that organizations are whole-heartedly embracing online communities. This heightened focus on digital marketing is by no means an emerging trend—I feel it is in full swing. I do, however see all sorts of businesses and nonprofits cannonballing into social pools that were once only frequented by timid toe-dippers and adventurous outliers. The Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre is currently reaching its supporters through five different channels—Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and email. The thespians are upstaged by the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, which has six social media extensions. While I have occasionally questioned what seems like a head-over-heels rush to build a presence on anything remotely resembling an online community, one of my interviewees explained that the equation is simple: More pixelated real estate means more opportunities for fresh eyes to notice an organization.
To explore this social trend, I will closely examine four years of reader data gathered by The Fountain, the online newspaper I used to edit. While I was editor, it was hard to step back and see the “big picture”—what social media platforms were driving the most traffic and what individual rhetorical appeals on those platforms were most successful. I hope to learn to identify patterns within this data, familiarize myself with analytics terms like “unique visitors” and “bounce rates,” and unravel the secrets to online brand interaction.
These three career-impacting resolutions would have been impossible to nail down without my internship experience. Identifying the skills that are valued by members of the state’s technical writing community led to a greater understanding of how I can become an asset to future employers. By this time next semester, I hope to be producing quality photos and videos, editing them using Adobe software, and presenting my multimedia so it is visible to members of active online communities.