How to hire a millennial

I suppose a first question might be: Why hire a millennial?

Millennials and the generations coming up behind them are the future of news and journalism … we hope! And as an industry, we’ve not done a great job of attracting their readership and viewership. It’s time to let millennials “speak” with millennials.

Recruiting smart, talented millennials isn’t easy. Traditional news operations aren’t all that attractive to them. Many are too talented to be wasted in traditional entry-level roles of obit writers, police- and court-blotter note takers, or runners/go-fers for on-air talent. Then there’s that starting pay issue, typically far below other careers that attract skilled talent.

Then again, most journalists aren’t in it for the money, the hours or the glamour … though improvement in these areas wouldn’t hurt recruitment efforts. They want to make a difference, hold the powerful accountable and identify ways we can make our lives better. Ping-Pong tables and free coffee might be nice (startup perks), but that’s not going to get the job done.

Here’s how one news organization, ABC News in Washington, D.C., went about the matchmaking process known as hiring.

Missouri School of Journalism convergence student Allison Pecorin spent her last semester working at ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she rotated through several editorial departments that produce political stories for TV and the web. Her experiences across the newsroom were varied, but all pointed back to an increased focus on digital media in a constantly evolving, digital-first space.

Her first general assignment task was as a doorknocker (i.e., a cold call). She went to the residence of the first wife of White House aide Rob Porter. The woman had alleged domestic abuse in support of Porter’s second wife’s allegations, but had not spoken to the media. When there was no answer to the knock on the door, Pecorin camped out on the stoop for six hours, finally meeting and talking with the woman.

Later joining the social media team, Pecorin found herself getting up at 3 a.m. every day to apply social media newsgathering techniques and storytelling during the Winter Olympics. She says one of her biggest learning takeaways was the importance of social verification and the growth and growing prevalence of social media teams in journalism. In that role she honed her skills in clearing rights on data, information and images not produced by ABC News.

Missouri School of Journalism convergence student Allison Pecorin spent her last semester working at ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she rotated through several editorial departments that produce political stories for TV and the web.

Working for the weekly program “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Pecorin found “analytical reporting that mirrors a (Missouri School of Journalism) convergence team story. … Those one-hour Sunday shows have the power to move D.C. conversations.” She says she found the analytic approach and research appealing.

On the Pennsylvania Avenue team she helped cover the March for our Lives and a presidential press conference.

So, what’s next?

Pecorin starts her career this month as a member of an ABC News task force covering Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The ABC News team includes two senior political producers, a digital journalist, an assignment editor, a White House reporter, several justice reporters, a congressional reporter, a standards editor and a digital editor.

“Covering the biggest story of our generation requires adaptability and depth of experience, flexibility and teamwork, and a concerted group effort,” Pecorin says. “To push relevant, digital-first content requires atypical teams of individuals. Newsrooms need to develop strategies to work across traditional newsroom divisions.”

Her other experiential observations:

  • “It takes a lot of fact-checking. There are serious consequences if not. … No requirement of speed should compromise accuracy (standards). ABC (and by extension, the news industry) cannot afford to get it wrong.”
  • “Old school (news) beats are too narrow, too limiting for wide access.”
  • “People connections matter. Talk to them where they are” (be it at their home, amid a protest march, or in the hallways of government).

So how do you hire a millennial? One great way to invest in your future is to participate in the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Student Innovation Fellowship program.  RJI partners with forward-thinking news outlets to financially support Missouri School of Journalism students as they work 30 hours a week at one of those outlets. At the end of the semester you’ll know what they are capable of. And you will have had the opportunity to show them what a vibrant, important journalism service you provide your community and audience. Contact RJI Associate Director Mike McKean for details of the next round of Student Innovation Fellowships.

“I want to be kept on my toes,” says Allison. Her advice to her peers: “Be flexible, adaptable; say ‘yes’ before you know what it is.”

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