Skills of Online Journalists Skew Traditional

July 8th, 2008; 8:00 am by Ryan Thornburg

In my survey of online journalists at North Carolina newspapers, I asked respondents to describe their proficiency in each of 17 different skills. What I found was that although online journalists are relatively young, their strength as a group remains in traditional skills of news judgment, grammar and AP style.

Here’s a table of the results.

Some questions into which I need to look a little deeper:

  • Do the rare few journalists with technical skills ALSO have traditional skills, or is one set of skills replacing the other?
  • Are the journalists with technical skills any more or less likely to be younger?
  • Are there particular job titles that are more likely to have technical skills?
  • Are technical skills more likely to be found at larger papers? Smaller? Neither?

If there are other questions I need to add to my list, please let me know.

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3 Responses to “Skills of Online Journalists Skew Traditional”

  1. Mindy McAdams Says:

    Hi, Ryan. Allow me to play devil’s advocate — are these the right questions?

    By asking present-day online journalists at newspapers about their present-day proficiency in these skills, you will gain an understanding of what they are good at, or not, right now.

    But many of these folks may have moved straight over from the print side. They may lack training, etc., that would enable them to do their jobs better.

    More important — these answers tell us nothing about what is needed, either today or in the future. Or am I wrong?

  2. Ryan Thornburg Says:

    No, you’re right. And you make an important point. These questions can’t tell us what we *should* be doing. They can only tell us what we are today doing. They may help students better understand the skills they need in the very near term — or at least will help them guide their expectations about working online.

    They also may help us better explain “what does an online journalist do?” (Or what DID she or he do in early 2008 anyway.)

    And they might help hiring managers better advertise their openings. For example, if I need a blurb writer who knows HTML, should I advertise for a “news producer,” an “online editor” or a “content manager”? How about if I need a PHP developer or someone to write a blog?

    But your comment is an important one, and hopefully a prompt: What SHOULD an online newsroom look like? Is there an ideal? What are the skills and duties most likely found at some of the ONA award winning sites, for example?

  3. john grey Says:

    Hmmm .If the responses about grammar and style are honest, I wish we had that sort of level of basic skill in our newsroom. Easier to teach multimedia skills than to make a silken writer out of a sow’s ear.

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