2 min read

Be an expert in less than an hour!

What new-media skill can a print-based journalism student -- graduating in December without a job -- learn quickly enough to avoid having to move back home with Mom and Dad?

That's been the question bouncing around in my head following my recent meetings with journalism students at the National College Media Convention, as well as the recent online conversation about the state of such students.

And I think I have the answer: search-engine optimization.

Now don't get me wrong. No one can become an SEO expert in a matter of weeks. But it is possible to learn enough about SEO in just a few minutes to impress the heck out of anyone who doesn't know SEO.
And if there's one thing I've learned in this business it's that most folks in publishing don't know anything about SEO. More importantly, many of the working journalists I know stubbornly refuse to learn SEO. So nearly every newsroom -- particularly at the smaller newspapers and magazines -- needs someone who knows SEO.

So if you're about to graduate, here's what you should do:
1. Follow this link and watch the video of Marshall Simmonds, the chief search strategist at the New York Times Co. (DISCLOSURE: I do some work for New York Times Digital.)  The video will run for 25 minutes.
2. Watch the video a second time.

After that, you'll know more about SEO than almost any reporter or editor on almost any publication you can name. You won't be an expert ... not really. But it's pretty unlikely that anyone you interview with will know that.
Add a sentence or two about SEO to your resume. In your cover letter,  talk about using SEO to attract readers to the work you plan on doing once you get hired. Make sure that you mention how much you're looking forward to sharing your SEO knowledge with other folks at your new job.

When you schedule an interview, make sure you ask your prospective employer what content-management system they use on the Web site. Then, before the interview, find someone on campus (possibly in IT or computer science) to help you understand how to use your new-found SEO skills in that CMS. (In other words, does the CMS allow you to customize the title tag, or will you have to know a little html? Does it automatically choose the headline as the title tag? Or does it just default to the name of the publication?) Be able to tell your prospective employer how you'll optimize the stories you write for his publication.
Then pay a visit to Search Engine Land, the single best source of information on SEO. Read everything you can.

Then show up for the interview, dressed nicely and smelling of breath mints, and show them that you're more than just another print guy.
And if, god help you, you actually land the job, try to find a real SEO expert who will coach you for a few hours on what to do once you start work.

tags: , , , , , , , journalism education