Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The skills we need

The Sector Skills Council for the Audio Visual Industries
There’s been a lot of discussion this week of the skills an online journalist needs.  
The debate was begun here by Renee Barnes on the News Frontier blog.
Her starting-point list of requirements were:
  1. Evidence of blogging and interaction with a wide range of blogs
  2. An understanding and active use of social media (Twitter, RSS, social bookmarking etc.)
  3. The ability to tell an engaging story using still images and audio (audio slideshow – see my previous post for great examples)
  4. Ability to shoot, edit and tell stories using video
  5. Basic ability to create interactive story elements using Adobe Flash
  6. Ability to edit audio and produce podcasts
  7. Ability to file from the field breaking news
  8. Ability to moderate online discussion
Her initial thoughts were picked up my Mindy McAdams here
She said: "My ranking would be 3, 2, 7, 6, 1, 8, 4, 5."
Which would work out as:
1.      The ability to tell an engaging story using still images and audio (audio slideshow)
2.      An understanding and active use of social media (Twitter, RSS, social bookmarking etc.)
3.      Ability to file from the field breaking news
4.      Ability to edit audio and produce podcasts
5.      Evidence of blogging and interaction with a wide range of blogs
6.      Ability to moderate online discussion
7.      Ability to shoot, edit and tell stories using video
8.      Basic ability to create interactive story elements using Adobe Flash
Mindy explains: “I think that without the ability to [tell an engaging story using still images and audio] well, the rest just falls by the wayside.
“One skill I would definitely add, for a new ninth item, is interviewing.” 
Mindy got this comment, which I agree with, from Craig : “I’m surprised to see Flash included, but not a basically ability or understanding of how web pages and sites are constructed.”
Mindy picks up on several other comments about the need to understand how websites work: “I think they are correct in saying there is a missing skill point, or numeral, in Barnes’s list. That point is generally one about broad, basic familiarity with the fundamentals of web production. How is a web page constructed, how does a database drive a site, how are photos optimised, and how is non-text content embedded? If you don’t understand these fundamentals, you’re borderline illiterate as far as producing online content goes.”
Renee Barnes says, in response to some comments that she has missed out on the essentials, that she is thinking of additional skills for online journalists and is not considering the fundamental skills of all journalists.
Which brings me to a very good post from the Journalistics blog that itemises 16 of those essentials. In my opinion 1-13 are essential, 14 I disagree with (see below) and the other two are bolt-ons.
You can find them here in full, with the justifications for including them. I’ll just give the highlights:
1. Name your sources whenever possible
2. Protect your sources when that is necessary
3. Be objective  [news] journalism should be void of opinion.
4. Offer balance  get information from all sides.
5. Avoid conflicts of interest  don’t write about something because you like it. This works in the blogosphere, but not for traditional journalism.
6. Don’t censor  don’t leave a company out of a report because you don’t like their PR rep.
7. Get it right  better to be accurate than first.
8. Don’t plagiarise
9. Report the facts  there’s no room for guesswork in journalism. If you don’t know the answer, find it.
10. Don’t be nasty  you’ve got influence, don’t abuse it.
11. Don’t believe everything  if it’s your byline, it’s your job to fact check.
12. Keep good records
13. Don’t write in a stream of consciousness - if you’re writing news, use the Inverted Pyramid.
14. Find your voice  (he’s wrong here. News has no voice, it’s stylistically anonymous. Features have a voice.)
15. Never stop learning you can always improve …take part in new courses …pick up new skills. Your future employment depends on it.
16. Have fun
So, are trainee journalists being prepared for both skill sets? Well, in the UK, we can ask an outfit conveniently called Skillset
It did a journalism skills survey called Convergence Journalism Skills Survey and found this:
“Almost three-quarters of employers (71 percent) think there is a skills gap among graduates entering journalism. And said: "The main traditional skills gaps reported are: finding own stories, use of language, writing, media law, shorthand and newsgathering. In particular, the standard of written English among new entrants was flagged both in the survey and interviews as a major cause for concern.
" The main new skills gaps reported are: video skills, writing for search engine optimisation, writing for multi platforms (24-hour rolling news), assembling news bulletins and audio/video packages, using the Freedom of Information Act, and prioritising ways to tell a story.
"Voice coaching is a particular skills gap within television and radio, while within the magazine sector, new skills such as user-generated content, podcasts and blogging feature strongly."
Come the next academic year the Skillset-approved Joint Journalism Training Council will have accredited courses that provide the range of skills required for a modern journalist
Their latest published list of course requirements  looks like this:

  • Basic IT and internet skills – competences in keyboard skills and internet use for data searching and communication, blogging or other web-based narrative construction, basic specialist software
  • Basic online production techniques including sound and video recording and editing
  • Awareness of online sites – news platforms, social websites, basic search engines, brand extensions
  • Basic ability to write web text, articles, blogs, SMS and picture captions
  • Basic ability to write for audio and video
  • Ability to re-version and re-purpose, use links, moderate and manage user-generated content for different platforms, organisations and purposes
  • Appreciate the differences between professional journalism and citizen journalism or blogging, such as truth, accuracy, checking, public interest and responsibility
  • Understanding optimisation eg for search engines, archiving, key words and tags, embedded coding, watermarking, click-stream data, story rating on sites like YouTube
  • Understanding of how a multi-platform editorial team works including the generation of ideas, presentation, commissioning, angle selection and treatments, work-flows, deadlines and priorities.
  • Understanding of choices and decisions facing the different platforms including cross-media publications and 24-hour rolling news.  How to manage your time to deliver on all those platforms, how to make the different angles for each platform stand out from each other and the competition.
  • Understanding of how to assemble news packages for the web and what makes for high quality visual images and audio in telling and illustrating a story.
  • Ensuring the compliance of stories and information for publication on the web with legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Understanding of basic web layout and design eg how to work in website templates, the principles and aesthetics of web page design and construction
  • Understanding the different needs of voice, reading and presentation skills for different platforms and audiences
  • Understanding of risk assessment, health and safety and hazardous assignments.

And finally, the commercial. My book/website/community, Multimedia Journalism: A Practical Guide is designed to cover that emerging syllabus, and also drill in the basics.

1 comment:

Chris Horrie said...

Hi Andy - Chris Horrie we met at the University of Westminster a couple of years ago where I was developing an online magazine course with potential to be a pilot for the NCTJ - unless this was a different Andy Bull!. I have moved to the University of Winchester now where we are starting a converged course from scratch. Have a look at it at MA Journalism: Winchester. I am getting a budget authorized so that I can get bloggers such as yourself to have their blogs hosted by the university. This is a possible new model for journalism education 'Loggers' - Lecturer/Bloggers. Obvious the presence of such a stream of excellent content on any university's blog would be a good think in terms of page rank and what have you. In the meantime the least we could do would be a link exchange. Yrs Chris Horrie