Survey: Local news orgs prioritize hirings differently. #superpowers Click To Tweet

Our survey asked media leaders to identify their immediate hiring priorities, using a list of 21 skills that we concluded were needed, in-demand or both in newsrooms — based on our editorial hiring and training experience, a review of current job listings and previous research. Based on survey results and the comments we received, we believe the skills fall into two categories. The first, Foundational Skills, are those that newsrooms have long relied on to cover and uncover news and present it on established media platforms, such as print, broadcast and “web classic” (the laptop/desktop web experience). The second, Transformational Skills, are abilities that media organizations need to address and adapt to acute, broad and ongoing changes in the news audience, as well as technology for both collecting and distributing news.

Among our findings:

Superpowers Needed — Newsgathering Competence Isn’t Enough: The skills we labeled Transformational were in greater demand than the ones we called Foundational, based on the answers to our questionnaire.  Coding/development, audience development/user data and metrics, visual storytelling, digital design, and social media distribution were the top five hiring priorities among the newsroom leaders surveyed. All of them fall into our Transformational skills category. Only one skillset that we categorize as Foundational — reporting, writing, editing – was a hiring priority in more than half of the newsrooms surveyed.

In the open-ended answers to our questionnaire and in follow-up interviews, however, we repeatedly heard that the most valuable hires are those who bridge the Foundational and the Transformational. That means potential employees who pair the new, specialized knowledge that news leaders say they most urgently need with a deep understanding of their organization’s editorial mission and essential practices are the ones who have the real superpowers. In the words of a 2015 job description for an interactive news developer in the McClatchy D.C. bureau, “Expect your journalism skills to be as important as your programming skills and visual sensibility.”

New Leadership Skills Needed by “Flat”, Multi-disciplinary Newsrooms: News leaders are eager to foster a “product”-focused mindset in their newsrooms, hiring people who have a vision to create and oversee editorial projects, services and experiences that will connect with their audiences. Half of the organizations that answered our questionnaire said product ownership and development was an immediate hiring priority, and others said they had already made such hires.

Project managers — who often coordinate the interdisciplinary work it takes to create and maintain editorial products — were less in demand, as were managers. However, follow-up interviews and job postings suggested that news leaders often look for people with project management skills when hiring a variety of other production, editing and managerial positions. The interviews also suggested that news organizations still value good managers, but frequently look to develop and train them, not hire them. Leadership and management ability “is very hard to find and undervalued,” said Melanie Sill, a veteran newspaper editor who is now vice president of content at Southern California Public Radio in Pasadena. “The hardest jobs to fill are jobs that need people who are skilled journalists with technical mastery and who can manage people.”

Business and Audience Awareness a Must: Traditional ethical barriers still stand between newsroom and business staffs, but conversations across those borders are far more common than they were in days when large audiences and big profits were a given. About two-thirds of our 39 participants, including most of those who ran non-profit news organizations, said they believed that people in their newsrooms need a fundamental understanding of the economics and business-side of the news industry. Even among those who said they disagreed, about half made clear in their answers that they expected employees to recognize and respond to competitive and market forces within the industry. And no market force matters more than the profound changes in the ways that people get their news, and how those audience changes determine what a news organization can afford to spend on its journalism. “We all have to learn more about, and pay closer attention to, the daily habits of our digital audience,” said Rene Sanchez, editor and senior vice president of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

Markets Drive Hiring Priorities: The hiring priorities of local news organizations differed significantly from other kinds of media companies, especially when it came to Transformational needs at newspapers and other outlets based in small- to medium-sized media markets. Visual storytelling, for instance, was even more of a priority for most of these local news organizations (5 of 7, or 71 percent) than it was for all of the participants (18 of 31, or 58 percent). But know-how in coding, audience development and product ownership were not. Most media companies (22 of 31, or 71 percent) said coding skills were a hiring priority, but it was far less important in small- and medium-market outlets (2 of 7 or 29 percent).

There were similar differences between the eight newspaper companies in our survey compared to other kinds of media outlets, but five of the newspapers were also among the small- and medium- market companies, so a broader survey would be needed to more definitively sort out whether medium or market-size matters most.