Journalism still needs great journalists. But what most of the 39 media executives and senior editors we heard from for this report said they really need are talented news people who also have the specialized skills and abilities it takes to make sure great journalism remains relevant to quickly changing audiences.
“We can find people with solid writing and traditional reporting skills, and [other people with] the ability to use twitter, to use social,” said Mandy Jenkins, news editor for the social-media reporting and verification service Storyful. “But for combining those skills to bring critical thinking and investigative research to social — that’s harder.”
A job description for a 2015 opening at the Los Angeles Times telegraphs the new hybrid expectations — even for a deputy editorial page editor: “Like every job at The Times, this is a multimedia, multi-platform position,” the job posting explained. “….[T]he deputy editor will need to be thinking about our digital presence, web-only features, online projects and about how to increase the presence and popularity of The Times’ opinion content on the Internet.”
It’s not just media companies with staffs and audiences the size of the Los Angeles Times that are thinking this way. In southwestern Illinois, for instance, the McClatchy-owned Belleville News-Democrat was in the market for a multimedia reporter — someone capable of “shooting videos and learning how to produce interactive graphics,” plus a willingness “to use social media as part of the daily beat routine.” Oh, and “database journalism skills are a plus” too, the editors added.
In Lawrence, Kan., the locally owned Journal-World was looking for a digital reporter who could crank out news copy and beat coverage. But the editors also wanted someone who knew their way around digital analytics and came with “strong social media skills” and “experience with data visualization.”
After years of newsroom cuts and buyouts, it’s a buyer’s market for editorial talent, so multifaceted, cross-platform job postings like these are fairly common. But many media decision-makers also know from experience that work qualifications are easier to write than they are to find. Kevin Roose, news director at Fusion, said he wants people on his staff who are as good at cultivating sources and leads on social media as they are at uncovering information in a FOIA request. “I wish those skills weren’t so far apart,” he lamented. “Those people are rare birds.”
Almost every news media leader is in the market for a version of the same thing: new talent with the super skills they need to rescue their organizations from digital doom. But which skills matter most — and to whom?
To answer that question, we asked media executives and senior news leaders to tell us about their hiring priorities among 21 skills. We chose the skills based in large part on the duties and responsibilities found in dozens of job postings, as well as our own experience leading newsrooms, running editorial training programs and consulting for news media clients. We also looked at the skills detailed in a broader 2014 survey of news people and journalism educators published by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Based on the answers to our questionnaire, we divided those skills into two broad categories:
Foundational Skills: Well-established abilities that newsrooms rely 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)
Transformational Skills: The abilities that newsrooms need to address and adapt to acute, broad and ongoing changes in the news audience, distribution, editorial practices and presentation.
We didn’t assume that digital skills were inherently Transformational, or that pre-digital skills are necessarily Foundational. Instead, we defined them based on whether news leaders said they needed particular abilities to help their organization adapt to ongoing shifts in the media business.
For instance, photography and videography skills are not new. But adapting photo and video techniques for an audience that increasingly relies on mobile and social media was clearly a factor when our respondents prioritized visual storytelling/editing, so we labeled that skillset Transformational. Blogging, on the other hand, plays a significant role in many organization’s digital news strategies. But we labeled it Foundational because its key practices have been well established for a decade and a half.
Innovation is essential and happens in both Foundational and Transformational skills, of course. The distinction here, in terms of a news organization’s hiring priorities, is the purpose of the innovation: Foundational innovations make better journalism. Transformational innovations make better journalism organizations. The people who pair Foundational and Transformational skills help do both. These are the people who are most in demand — the news people with superpowers.
FOUNDATIONAL AND TRANSFORMATIONAL PRIORITIES
Number and percent of 31 news organizations surveyed that said these skills were among their immediate hiring priorities for the coming year.
|Audience development/user data and metrics||20||65%||Transformational|
|Visual storytelling/editing (photo/video production)||18||58%||Transformational|
|Digital design (for web, mobile, applications)||17||55%||Transformational|
|Social media distribution||17||55%||Transformational|
|Journalism essentials (reporting, writing, editing)||16||52%||Foundational|
|Product ownership/development (oversight, vision and direction of projects, services or experiences)||16||52%||Transformational|
|Digital essentials (understanding of changing audience expectations/behavior and competitive landscape)||15||48%||Foundational|
|Beat reporting/specialized reporting||12||39%||Foundational|
|Management (process, people and decision-making, budgets)||8||26%||Transformational|
|Project management (timelines, coordination, process)||7||23%||Transformational|
|Content management and editorial systems||6||19%||Foundational|
|Fact checking/verifying sources (*)||3||10%||Foundational|
|Rights management (photo usage, etc.)||3||10%||Foundational|
* We intended this question to deal with the kind of reporting done by news sites such as FactCheck.org and PolitiFact, and the kind of social verifcation and curation work done by organizations such as First Look Media’s reported.ly and News Corp-owned Storyful — important work that applies traditional journalism standards to new forms of information distribution. We do not think that was clear to our survey takers.