The news industry is in the market for heroes — great journalists who also have the specialized skills it takes to tell the stories and build the products that audiences want, need and expect.
You don’t need Clark Kent’s super hearing to pick up that cry for “help wanted.” The message was loud and clear in responses from 31 news organizations to an online questionnaire on hiring priorities, two dozen follow-up interviews and a review of job postings from across the United States.
“The best new employees are the ones who have a superpower,” said Drake Martinet, vice president for product at VICE Media. “They get hired for writing, editing, audience development…. But they also can think in the language and discipline of other parts of the organization.”
Martinet and nearly 40 other individual participants detailed their staffing priorities and described the combinations of skills they need now from the people they hire.
When asked to identify five to 10 top hiring needs for the coming year, the news organizations that responded to our questionnaire prioritized skills in three areas: coding; audience development and data; and photo/video production. Two thirds of the organizations chose “coding/development” and “audience development/user data and metrics.” Nearly 60 percent chose visual storytelling/editing.”
When we asked survey participants to narrow their choices to just three top hiring priorities, the same three skills — coding, audience development/data and visual storytelling — led that list as well.
On the other end of the hiring priority list were six skills that predate or emerged early in media’s transition to digital distribution. Sought by less than a quarter of newsrooms surveyed, they included blogging; content management and editorial systems; copy/self editing; fact checking/verifying sources; and rights management.
Many employees at the long-established news organizations we surveyed presumably possess these abilities already — so the fact that they ranked low among overall hiring priorities may reflect oversupply more than lack of demand. “We don’t lack skills in terms of the mechanics of publishing to a CMS or editing,” said Mark Briggs, director of digital media at NBC affiliate KING-TV in Seattle. But interestingly, the half dozen newsrooms that did prioritize copy editing and self-editing abilities weren’t cloistered hideaways of “old-media” stodginess. Five of the six were digital organizations from the start: AJ+, First Look Media, Quartz, Storyful and Texas Tribune.
The people we asked to answer our questionnaire weren’t selected randomly, so the survey wasn’t scientific. It’s impossible to say whether the personnel needs reported by those surveyed are typical across the industry or to estimate the likelihood that they are not.
However, we intentionally surveyed newsroom leaders at a wide variety of media companies: organization that started as traditional publishers and broadcasters and organizations that began as digital natives; local and nationally focused outlets; small newsrooms and large; for-profits and not-for-profits; outlets that cover niche topics and those reporting general news. What we heard in follow-up interviews and found in nearly 120 job postings collected over the same period reinforced what we saw in the survey results.
Taken together, these findings offer a guide to trends in editorial hiring that we believe will be useful to media managers, journalism educators, and those seeking to enter or move up in the profession — particularly at U.S.-based news organizations. Moreover, since the data comes from some of the industry’s top players and respected organizations, it adds an executive-level perspective to other research on the evolution of newsroom skills.