Hiring for the Semantic Web

For the past 10 years, the candidate description for most new media positions has been, "looking for reporter, with basic technology skills." This position has worked fine, filling in the gaps during the transitional phase of new media journalism, however it is bound to become less relevant as news organization become more tech savvy and the web moves to more of a semantic playground.

It is to be expected that during the transitional phase of any new medium, new roles are built by morphing familiar skillsets and duties. Recent j-school graduates and reporters looking for a change of pace filled this role web during the .com boom. I'm thankful to these individuals who forged a home for news organizations online, while bringing new technologies and knowledge into the newsroom.

During this early period, many online sites were formed as seperate units within each company. They formed miniature publishing groups complete with their own writers, designers, and editors using the print or broadcast editions as their primary content sources. Most even had their own publishing cycles, lingo, editorial meetings, and publishing systems.

These duplicate structures are beginning to make less sense as newsrooms hire younger writers who are already familiar with the internet. While easier technology and cross pollenation within the organization is making publishing on the web less intimidating.

This integration is opening up the field to re-invent itself. However, the promise of the semantic web will be difficult to reach if the focus remains on hiring writers. The semantic web requires a new skillset and new roles within the organization. The focus needs to be moved to those who understand how to take divergent content sources, and create building blocks for new forms of content creation and retrieval.

These are the roles that I believe are needed to take advantage of this shift.

The typical librarian values content in its larger context, seeing the importance of helping others make connections between different pieces of information. As well as organizing the information for easier retrieval and question answering. Some of the most important duties of this role will be to add metadata to content, prepare taxonomies to place the content within, and to build the structure that the site exists within. No real tech skills needed are needed for this role, simply a highly organized, big picture thinker.
Data Miners
This role is the next step for those already working with computer assisted reporting. These data miners are taking the data prepared by the librarians and giving it to users in new and unique ways. Where this field begins to diverge from typical CAR, is by the importance placed on giving readers the ability to dig out the information themselves. Experience with scripting languages (PHP, ASP, Cold Fusion, Perl, Python, etc) skills are needed as well as experience with interacting with various databases. These data miners will often find themselves wading through raw data (census info, weather data, crime statistics, etc) in order to give users ways to manipulate it into something that matters to them personally.
Designers with a strong editoral sense are invaluable when presenting content online. Although the print or broadcast editions take the lead in deciding what the priorities are of the day, these priorities must be translated onto the web page. Although the data miners are building the tools to present information to users, the designers must display it in the least intimidating method possible. These are the people who realize that we read by looking at more than just the text.