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Reading the Mindset of Your Future Employees

-first posted at RTDNA.org on August 25, 2009

It’s back-to-school time at journalism and communication schools around the country.  Your future employees are making their way into the classroom to prepare themselves for a career in reporting, producing, and more.  One fall tradition over the last decade or so is for little Beloit College in Wisconsin to release what it calls its “Mindset List.”   You can see the whole list at:

http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/

The idea is that the students entering college this fall—in all areas of study, not just journalism—are the product of the times in which they have been raised, and that those times are far different from the ones in which we grew up.  This year’s list (for the class of 2013) highlights what the world is like for students born in 1990 and 1991.  It has some cute entries like:

-The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.

and

-Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.

And there are some more serious entries, too, like:

-The American health care system has always been in critical condition.

and

-The status of gays in the military has always been a topic of political debate.

But the entries that caught my eye the most were these:

-They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their lives.

-Cable television systems have always offered telephone service and vice versa.

-We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.

and

-Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.

These points tell us a lot about the people who’ll begin to populate our newsrooms a short four years from now.  And with all due credit to the people at Beloit and their list, I’ve created my own “Media Mindset List” to give you a few more ideas about what’s coming down the pike.

1. They have never used a dictionary to tell if they’re spelling a word correctly: Get used to a total dependence on spellchecker.  We have a giant dictionary from 1962 in our newsroom.  When I take reporters to it to check a spelling, I might as well be showing them a moon rock.  But I do it anyway.  It might actually rub off on some of them.

2. They have never used a phone book to look up a number: This one sort of goes with the last, but is worth mentioning separately.  I still find a phone book to be a quicker way to look up a number most of the time.  The class of 2013 does not.  In fact, most do not know how phone books “work.”  If your newsroom uses paper phone books as a resource, be prepared to do some training (like how the white pages and yellow pages are arranged differently—really).  The phone companies in many states are asking their public service commissions to quit printing phone books, so we may lose this resource soon anyway.

3. They produce work to please someone: This can be both a good and a bad characteristic.  I suppose we all produce work to please our audiences.  But the class of 2013 wants more immediate and personal feedback on what they’ve done.  So they’ll expect you—their bosses—to give them that on a regular basis.  Not a horrible thing to have to do, it just takes time.  But they also like sources and others involved in the story to be pleased, too.  That can be a tough habit to break.  Letting reporters know it’s OK to anger source is a lesson you should plan on delivering pretty frequently.  Members of the next generation cringe when they get complaints about their stories.  I think most of us managers wear those complaints as a badge of honor—if those complaints are about a hard-hitting story.

4. The newscast has always been TiVo’ed: Here’s an odd one—no one gathers to watch the news at 6 (or any other time) anymore.  I blame this one on the TiVo generation.  While we managers are used to watching our shows live, seeing what we have versus the competition, there’s no mad rush anymore to the TV at the top of the show.  I think there’s a sense that the program will be waiting when they want it.  Think about pushing people to watch and catch it all in real time as much as possible.

5. Holidays are, well, holidays: I can’t think of a better way to say this one than that.  A couple of generations of baby boomer and Gen X journalists have worked for years not worrying about missing their holidays.  As I’m fond of saying in my newsroom, “Thanksgiving is just another Thursday.”  That statement brings stunned gasps from my young employees.  These guys love their holidays—even the minor ones.  Labor Day is like a sacred tradition to a lot of them.  Prepare them early to work every holiday, then pleasantly surprise them by letting them off for a few.

6.  Whatever they’re responsible for is spelled out in writing somewhere: This the rubric generation.  They grew up knowing any important task comes with detailed instructions.  This is a challenge to those of us who love to trust our gut, go with our intuition.  I think the next generation can be trained to trust their own judgment and leap before they look from time to time, but you’ll have some convincing to do to get the to try it for themselves.

7. A tweet is far more interesting than a package: Don’t forget the class of 2013 has REALLY embraced instant communication—tweeting, IM’ing, texting, etc.  Those are all great ways to get a tiny bit of information out there quickly, but most of us love the richness of a reporter package that uses all the attributes of our medium to tell great stories.  That richness can be daunting, however, to a new reporter.  Be ready to take the time to nurture the love you have for good storytelling and build that in your future employees.

8. Their parents are their closest advisors: This is probably a good thing in many ways.  The Millennial generation has put an end to much of the alienation between parent and child.  But Dad isn’t an expert in broadcast news and that can cause some conflicts.  Expect the counsel from home to continue.  Just assert your expertise over the new employee’s profession and you’ll eventually win out.

9. Technology has always been a wonderful, mysterious thing…and they’d like to keep it that way: There’s an amazing chasm between the comfort level most of the class of 2013 has with USING new technology and the comfort level they have UNDERSTANDING new technology.  The Millennials are a black box generation.  They want to turn on the switch and watch it work, not know what happens behind the switch.  As an old news photographer who could take apart a BVU-50 in the field to troubleshoot a problem, this bothers me.  Your new people—even the photographers—will not do a lot of field repair on your gear.  Best bet is to keep pushing them to understand HOW things work—not just that they do.  But it will be an uphill climb.

10.  The “new” media isn’t new to this generation: I’ve saved the best for last.  We’ve actually pretty much stopped using the term “new media” around my shop.  This is just the “media” to the new class. And that’s the best part.  They aren’t tied to any of the old ways.  They’ll adopt and discard at will when thing roll over the horizon.  That’s a benefit to you in training, implementation, and acceptance.  Those days of trying to teach old dogs new tricks are over.  These dogs never get old and the tricks never seem new.

You won’t see the class of 2013 in your newsrooms for at least four years or so.  But I’m meeting them now.  I’ll keep an eye on them and tell you what to expect as I learn more.  But I’ll let you know now I’m excited to have them.

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