Newsroom Skills: The Bosses Speak Out

July 21st, 2008; 12:27 pm by Ryan Thornburg

(After years of watching CNN with envy, I finally get to use the verbose phrase “speak out” in a headline.)

Writing and overall computer skills are the most essential skills for newsroom reporters, according to a survey of 259 top editors at daily newspapers in the United States. The survey, which was posted this morning, ranks multimedia skills and data analysis skills at the bottom of the list of five choices that the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism gave editors in the survey that was conducted earlier this year.

The full table …

Q6 How important is each of the following skills for the newsroom reporting staff you
hire today...?
                              VERY  SOMEWHAT   NOT-TOO  NOT-AT-ALL  NO-ANSWER

                                 %      %         %       %          %

a. Multi-Media skills           39      51        9       1          0
b. Overall computer skills      65      31        3       *          *
c. Data Analysis skills         20      63       17       *          0
d. Ability to file quickly      59      37        3       1          0
e. Writing skills               88      12        0       0          0

These findings are as unsurprising as they are unspecific. Among this very limited set of choices, it hopefully won’t surprise or worry anyone that writing remains the core skill in newsrooms. Photography? Graphic design? Reporting? Editing? The survey didn’t ask about those skills

The only troubling hint in the responses to these questions might be the preference for speed above data analysis and multimedia, which tend to be tools that are used for creating more relevant and memorable stories online.

There’s some other signs of trouble in a question that indicates a plurality of both large and small papers do not edit  — ever, either before or after publication — staff-written blogs that appear on their site.

The survey also shows that online fields are really the only meaningful growth areas of newspaper staffs, with 57 percent of editors saying they increased Web-only editing staff and 63 percent saying they increased the number of videographers in the last three years.

My quick read of this survey would seem to indicate that newspaper are focusing on faster video news along with less editorial oversight. I’m not sure that’s really a winning strategy for professional journalists.

Small, Large Papers Differ in Approach to Web

The PEJ survey of editors also highlighted another unsurprising finding — that staffers at smaller papers are more likely to be jacks of all trades. They are more likely than staffers at large papers to be shooting and filing video and they are also more likely to be working for both the Web and print than their counterparts at big newspapers. Eighty-six percent of small papers have integrated staffs, while 63 percent of larger papers have integrated their staffs.

However, only 33 percent of editors at small papers and 45 percent at large papers say they spend at least roughly the same amount of their time on the Web site as the newspaper. This leaves me envious of the apparent freedom neglect of online staffers at most of the country’s small newspapers.

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One Response to “Newsroom Skills: The Bosses Speak Out”

  1. Joe Says:

    Hi Ryan,
    What jumps out at me is that 17% find data analysis to be not too important overall. This is one of the reason snarky bloggers have such a field day with newspaper reporting, whether it is in a dead trees edition or a digital edition. Data analysis allows a reporter to provide context for a story. An oldie, but a goodie. The annual flock of coverage for the NWS’ hurricane prediction data brings substantial amount of coverage, especially post-Katrina. What is often not reported is the context to go with it. Simple data analysis would show the standard deviation between NWS prediction and actual numbers. Including trending would be better.

    Another oldie but goodie. Most folks regard an increase in the minimum wage, which is happening today, if memory serves, as a good thing, but critics will be given their time in a small graf saying in effect, “Critics argue that increases in the minimum wage tighten the jobs market and should instead be tied to inflation increases.” However, that is hardly an adequate analysis of the data or of the story itself. I remember from my high school economics classes that economists had determined every $0.25 increase of the minimum wage resulted in the loss of 100,000 jobs from the economy. Whether that is apocryphal now I cannot say, having not researched the statistics in oh 15 years, give or take.

    However, my overall perspective is that more than internet skills or multimedia skills, data analysis is an undervalued commodity in newsrooms. But I’m not an editor. I’m a consumer and I don’t consume much news anymore via traditional media sources.

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