Having spent yesterday afternoon with a multimedia journalist friend who patiently tried to coach me on the basics of audio and video editing, I got to thinking about the huge shifts in the skill-set now required of journalists. The very fact that I felt I needed to learn how to handle video and audio shows how things have changed.
Things were so simple for journalists back in the old days. As long as you had certain core skills you could get by:
innate curiosity, combined with enough confidence and resourcefulness to go and find stuff out;
sufficient lucidity of mind to understand sometimes complex subjects and condense large amounts of information without losing the gist;
a good enough grasp of spelling and grammar to be able to express information concisely and clearly;
the ability to type and do shorthand and read large quantities of source material quickly;
the so-called ‘nose for news’ – the ability to identify the kernel of a story from a two-hour council meeting or four-hour court case or in the ramblings of a bloke in a pub;
enough knowledge of media law that you could avoid pitfalls like defamation and contempt of court.
How times have changed due to the transition from print to digital and multimedia platforms. It seems we are now expected to be able to handle not just conventional journalistic tasks but also those traditionally carried out by specialist graphic designers, web experts, photographers, videographers and marketers. What are they are supposed to think about this trend? They are seeing the skills they have acquired over many years being aped by people who will probably do the job far less competently. Similarly, we journalists are seeing our own skills being undermined by unqualified and untrained people who are prepared to work for next to nothing, to get ‘exposure’ for their writing.
So what are these skills that journalists should arguably possess these days? A discussion on LinkedIn (a great source of opinion on subjects like this) has thrown up a whole heap of suggestions. You can see the discussion here.
Video editing (using software like Final Cut Pro, iMovie or Avid)
Audio recording and editing (for example, Audacity)
Podcasting (audio presentations).
Social media (for example, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter)
SharePoint (like Facebook but for intra-company communications)
Knowing how to write SEO text and headlines
Using content management systems
Infographics and multimedia presentations (Powerpoint and similar)
Web design (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, HTML)
Image processing and manipulation (Photoshop and similar)
Design (Quark Xpress or InDesign)
Data journalism (being able to produce stories from statistics)
Many in the LinkedIn thread believe that learning additional skills increases the market value of a journalist and that not learning them could mean being left behind. However, a minority of those commenting argued that news writing skills remain core (“Everything else is just bling,” commented one) and that trying to learn the multitude of new skills could just distract from the core skills (being able to write articulate, well structured and incisive copy) that we mastered to make us valuable to employers in the first place.
Others argued that some new skills, notably using social media, could be self-taught very quickly (only an idiot could not master Twitter in an afternoon, opined one bloke), so learn them and get on with it.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s scary because the time it takes to acquire these new skills must take away from the time we can spend practising the old skills that have made us employable until now. Most journalists I know have their own websites, are using social media to a lesser or greater extent and are having to get to grips with content management systems, but much of the rest remains rocket science to many of us.
I wonder, does attempting to learn the plethora of new stuff lead to us becoming Jacks of all trades and masters of none, or does it genuinely make us more attractive to employers?
Image courtesy of Taoty at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net