By Sydney Paulak
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Leah Bercerra, 27, believes that having a wide range of skills is the key to being competitive in journalism, especially when it comes to technology and social media.
Becerra, a digital editor at The Kansas City Star, has been laid-off before, so she understands the turbulent industry and the need to stand out.
“I got a job after I was laid-off really quickly and I was hired because of those skills,” she said.
Bercerra graduated from the University of Missouri in 2012 with a degree in journalism and a multimedia emphasis. She learned to work with photos, videos and coding. She found the coding to be particularly useful.
“Acquiring those skills was the single most important decision and thing I have ever done for myself,” she said.
Becerra took a basic coding class in college.
“I took the class because I was already very comfortable with computers and it seemed natural to learn the skill,” she said. “It also seemed like a good idea because of how important web presence is for publications these days.”
The rest of her skills have been self-taught, but she said it would not have been possible without learning the basics of coding first.
Becerra landed her first job working as a graphics reporter at the Springfield News-Leader in Springfield, Missouri. There she helped create a database of city methamphetamine labs that had been located and which ones had been cleaned up.
From there, she went to the Omaha World-Herald as a web editor and got to work on more coding projects. Then she moved on to be a content producer for Newsy, an online video news source. She created videos about technology and business news.
Becerra took everything she learned and applied it to her job as a digital editor at The Kansas City Star. She posts stories to the newspaper website, adds photos and videos and posts to social media.
She says the best part of her the job is that every day is different.
“I might be working on a project one day, social media another and even stories from time to time,” she said.
Working with social media and the 24/7 news cycle has also been a new challenge.
Becerra says that getting the story out quickly is the goal, but accuracy and ethics always come first.
“We are always careful to get the story accurate even over getting it first," she said.
Becerra has had to judge the legitimacy of rumors before. One time her publication was covering a breaking story about a chemical leak from a business. The leak had caused air pollution in the area. The publication received a rumor that 10 people were dead. This information did not seem legitimate or plausible, so Becerra and her team chose not to run the rumor. It was later proven false.
Social media intensifies issues caused by false information and constant news, she said.
“Social media has forced us to have a stricter view on news feed. It forces us to compete with people who aren’t traditional news,” says Becerra.
The average citizen could create a false social media post based off rumors because he or she doesn’t have the same standards or reputation as a media outlet, she said.
An example Becerra gave is a local Twitter account in Omaha. A man with a police radio tweets the calls he overhears. He is not thinking about accuracy; he just reports. This could lead to some potentially false or misleading information being shared, she said.
These news trends in the world of journalism require young people entering the field to be able to adapt, she said.
If Becerra could give advice to young journalists, she would encourage them to broaden their horizons and learn new skills. She also encourages networking while still in college.
“It helped me find jobs and helped me talk about projects I’m working on,” she says. “If you know someone that specializes in something, it helps you out, especially with the web.”
A note about the content: This site showcases the final projects of University of Nebraska-Lincoln editing students. Each semester, students pick a journalist or communications professional to profile. This is their work.
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