Hiring priorities are one way to look at the future of journalism. If our unscientific survey of news leaders at 31 media organizations is in any way representative, the immediate future of the news business will remain focused on its ongoing digital metamorphosis, with a strong need for what we labeled Transformational skills.
Above all, there is a strong market for:
- Expertise in computer coding and development;
- Know-how in audience development and users metrics, especially as it relates to the impact of evolving mobile and social platforms; and
- Experience in visual storytelling, particularly video.
To do this work, news organizations need employees with editorial superpowers — people who pair Transformational skills and Foundational abilities. These include a commitment to storytelling, accuracy and fairness, as well as a solid footing in journalism’s essentials, such as the ability to report, write and edit. Long-established forms of reporting, particularly data journalism, are still priorities — especially as digital outlets provide new ways to present information and increase its impact.
Managing the Transformation will also take more than a Perry White’s gruffness and editorial backbone. News organizations need leaders at every level with a product mindset and an ability to coordinate increasingly collaborative projects.
Collaborating includes a more direct relationship with the “business side” than it did when news companies routinely turned trees and airwaves into profits, as a majority of the news leaders we heard from made clear. That means balancing a desperate need for innovation with an unyielding commitment to preserving the newsroom’s integrity.
The people with the qualities to handle the demanding tasks newsrooms must accomplish remain rare in many media organizations.
The senior editors and top media executives who responded to our survey acknowledged the difficulty they face in building the teams their organizations require. They noted as much with their candid and sometimes blunt answers to our questions. Budgets are tight, managers are stretched, staffing is thin, and critical skills are hard to come by.
Future research is needed to track how successfully newsrooms are meeting their personnel needs. Among the questions and issues worth exploring:
- Are the hiring needs of local newspaper companies and other media in small- and medium-sized markets really as different from other kinds of news organizations as they appear to be? Our survey found that small- and mid-market organizations didn’t prioritize some Transformational skills as highly as larger firms. If validated, are the reasons editorial, financial, cultural or institutional? Along the same lines, why are the needs and attitudes of not-for-profit and commercial news organizations so similar?
- How is multimedia storytelling evolving? In what ways are text, audio, video, photography, information graphics and animation converging, and how are each of those fields becoming more specialized? How are business factors — including advertising rates, audience interest and user behavior on social and mobile platforms — affecting the ways news stories are presented and delivered? The broad nature and wording of our survey made it hard to answer those kinds of questions, but the answers we did hear suggested that these kinds of questions deserve more attention.
- How is the need for expertise in product development, audience information and digital coding and development changing the way newsrooms and media companies organize themselves? Which organizational models work best for which kinds of organizations?
Of most interest will be the way news superpowers continue to evolve.
Some of the skills we listed as Foundational would have been Transformational if we had done this survey just a few years ago. Blogging, for instance, was a tool that helped many media companies find their digital voices more than a decade ago. Now, social and mobile media are requiring storytellers to stretch and experiment with newer and often more visual forms. The ubiquity of mobile broadband is powering a wave of innovation in radio/audio journalism. Virtual experiences are suddenly inexpensive enough for a newspaper company and its sponsors to deliver a cardboard viewer to every subscriber.
For those who’ve worked through the media mayhem of the past two decades that may be an exhausting notion or an exciting one — maybe both. But for those who are just arriving to the scene of the upheaval, the market for those superpowers is great. Heroes wanted!