Journalism Education

Tips for educators and students.


New newsroom training report shows gaps, some progress

For many journalists, this is the best of times for training. For others, it’s a missed opportunity, according to a new Poynter report.

The results of a new report “Constant Training: New Normal or Missed Opportunity?” were released today by The Poynter Institute and the Knight Foundation. Two-thirds of journalists report that they have received training the past 12 months. In addition, more than half, 56 percent, of those journalists were mostly satisfied or very satisfied with the training.

That’s a significant improvement from the 1993 “No Train, No Gain” report, published by the Freedom Forum, which revealed that only 14 percent of the journalists surveyed received regular weekly or monthly training at their newspapers. A follow-up report, “Newsroom Training: Where’s the Investment?” in 2002 painted a similar picture, with more than two-thirds of the journalists surveyed saying they “receive no regular skills training.”

However, Poynter’s 2014 survey shows that training varies wildly between newsrooms, with several reporting less than half of staff members have received training in the past year.  The lowest response was a newsroom where only 17 percent of staff members reported receiving training.

The results are from a survey of staff members from 31 newsrooms around the country conducted by The Poynter Institute on behalf of the Knight Foundation. The newsrooms ranged in size from 20 to 150 staff members. More than 1,650 staff members were possible participants for the survey, which achieved a 72.5 percent response rate or 1,188 responses. The survey was conducted online in June–July 2014.

Given the whirlwind of disruptions at news organizations during the past two decades, it’s good news that more journalists are getting journalism training than ever before, and they have an appetite for even more. Almost nine in 10 journalists [88 percent] said they could absorb more training, especially training that’s digitally-focused.

However, there are some disturbing results from the survey, with a third of the journalists in the survey [34 percent] saying that they received no training in the past 12 months. Considering the abundance of free or low-cost training available, the numbers of journalists not getting training seem strikingly high.

Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation takes an even harsher view of the situation in a blog post about the study:

But today’s study says we’re stuck at roughly the same average even as change is accelerating. What’s more, a national survey reports an overall average. In some newsrooms, nearly everyone gets some training; in others, the number can go as low as 17 percent. How can a number get that low when programs such as News University and NewsTrain have wiped out obstacles such as money and time?

Some will say they are trapped under bosses who don’t think well-trained people are faster and better. Others will say their company’s only focus is its cash-cow strategy, milking the business to death, and good journalism has no place there.

Today’s rapidly changing media ecosystem demands that journalists continually refresh their skills. In 1993, the Internet as a means to deliver news and information was a glimmer in a digital futurist’s eye. Today, digital-first isn’t just a slogan; it’s what is needed to get journalism to the public.

From Poynter-Knight Newsroom Training Report 2014

Barriers to Training. From Poynter-Knight Newsroom Training Report, 2014

The survey participants, when asked what kind of training they wanted, put digital topics at the top of their lists. Seven of the top 10 training topics had a digital focus, with social media, the use of digital tools and video skills as the top three areas where journalists thought that training could help them in their profession during the next 12 months. Other top topics were data journalism, audience development, writing skills, managing change, mobile devices, Web analytics and Web design.

Another indication of the hunger for training could be seen when we looked at what training participants wanted compared with which training they had in the previous 12 months. For example, 59 percent of the journalists who took digital tools training wanted more training on that topic. There were similar high levels of hunger among those who took training in video skills, Web analytics or mobile devices.

This raises the point that everyone, especially journalists, lives in a world of constant learning. Each new technology creates new opportunities and new challenges. Which create new openings for training. To be successful in the digital world, a journalist needs to embrace the idea of “constant training” to meet the changing demands of the workplace.

Other results from the “Constant Training” report survey are more troubling.

Actually doing the training presents a significant problem. Lack of time was cited by 62 percent of the participants as the number-one factor that prevented them from getting the training they needed or wanted. That’s twice as many responses as lack of funds, the second-place factor, which was selected by 34 percent.

Print-first vs. Digital-first. From Poynter-Knight Newsroom Training Report, 2014

Print-first vs. Digital-first. From Poynter-Knight Newsroom Training Report, 2014

The survey also provides an unsettling insight into the focus of the newsrooms surveyed. The journalists surveyed still see their newsrooms as print-centric or straddling the fence. Only one in 10 said that their newsrooms are thoroughly “digital-first.”

In addition, newsrooms surveyed are dominated by older workers — the median age of the survey participants is 48 years old — raising questions about how managers make sure that they are effectively engaging younger staff members and providing digitally-focused and relevant training to all staffers, regardless of age or digital background.

The report and data can be downloaded from here: Read more


Friday, Oct. 24, 2014


From AIDS to Ebola: Journalism, disease, and the mentality of fear

I remember a day back in the 1980s when I first met a person who I thought had AIDS.  I was sitting at the front desk of the old storefront building of the Poynter Institute when a tall gaunt man entered through the glass doors and approached me with a question. I have forgotten his question, but I do remember being frightened by his appearance.

He had several lesions on his face, the kind that people got after their immune system had been compromised by the AIDS virus. I did not reach out to shake his hand, my usual gesture, but babbled some reason to direct him out of the building. I am not proud of this. I just want to establish my credentials as someone capable of panicky, irrational fear.

About a decade after that meeting, 1996 to be exact, I published a month-long series in what was then the St. Petersburg Times called “Three Little Words.”  It told the story of a seemingly normal Midwestern family in which father died of AIDS. I learned a lot during the reporting and writing of that narrative. The most important lesson: Be not afraid.

I learned, for example, that HIV was much harder to contract than I had originally thought. Turning back the clock a decade, I could have shaken hands with that man that came into Poynter; I could have embraced him like a brother; we could share a meal without fear of infection. It would have been different if we had shared a needle to shoot up drugs or if we had engaged in anal intercourse.

There is that phrase. Anal intercourse. The one that so many news outlets were afraid to use, paralyzed by their inhibitions over what was possible to publish in a “family newspaper.”  So they resorted to euphemism:  “the exchange of bodily fluids.”  As a result of such squeamishness, I believe that ignorance was spread and that lives were lost.

In addition, we unleashed a decade of hate and discrimination. Two groups felt it most harshly:  poor people of color who looked – in the eyes of suburban whites – to be drug addicts; and gay men, all of whom were suspected of dangerous sexual practices with dozens if not hundreds of partners.

While my series on AIDS was running, I was invited by Times sports editor Hubert Mizell to appear on his morning radio talk show. A couple of prominent athletes had been diagnosed with the disease, and Mizell thought the conversation would have news value. I remember one phone call from a hockey fan who said he would no longer attend games because he might become infected with the AIDS virus. We looked at each other, puzzled. Here was his rationale:  hockey players get into fights along the boards and if they bled, their blood might splatter into the stands, infecting fans with AIDS.

I can remember my response years later, almost word for word. “Yeah, you might die as a result of attending a hockey game, sir. You might get hit in the head with a puck!”

I am no expert on Ebola, just a concerned American and writer who has been following a lot of the news coverage. Much of it has been very good. But even the best, most cautious, most nuanced coverage, I fear, has a hard time gaining traction.

Journalists, medical professionals, political leaders, people of reason and good faith everywhere must remember that we are fighting one of the most powerful forces in human history: the narrative of the leper. To be called, even metaphorically, a leper means that you are someone who is despised and feared. You will wear a bell around your neck. At your approach, people who fear you will stone you or put you in quarantine to die: leper colonies. Only holy men and women – Jesus, Damian, Mother Teresa – owned the moral courage to comfort the afflicted.

To move from the sublime to the ridiculous, even our popular culture reinforces the ignorant fear of infection. Exhibit A: the zombie. How many thousands and thousands of cinematic zombies have had their heads cut off, their brains blown out, or their bodies torched?  If I lived in Zombie Land, that, no doubt, would be my reaction, too. Why? Because if I am bitten, I will become infected, and, after infection, I will join the legions of the living dead. At their core, most horror stories are allegories about disease.

There is another old narrative that has raised its ugly head, one that I have known as a boy, but existed much longer than that. It is the story of Darkest Africa, and it expressed the worst fears of a privileged white race. As great a literary artist as Joseph Conrad succumbed to it in his novel Heart of Darkness. In this narrative, the Dark Continent is a place of primitive and pervasive dangers, where wild animals abound and dark-skinned humans engage in barbaric practices such as cannibalism. Even the cartoons of my youth played out versions of this theme.

I do not believe the irrational public fear of Ebola would be nearly as great if the disease had not come “out of Africa.”

So there is a lot of work to do, my brothers and sisters in journalism. The more we learn, I will predict, the more reason and proportion we will bring to the process. It took me a decade to overcome my fear of AIDS. I know we can do better than that.

When I began this essay, my plan was just to compare Ebola to AIDS. That move led me to something much deeper, the narratives of the despised leper and the primal fears of the Dark Continent.  Fear of disease has always been linked to the enemy, the scapegoat. In Shakespeare’s time, the English called syphilis the “French disease.” European Christians blamed the Black Death on Jews, even as they would eventually carry diseases, such as smallpox, to the inhabitants of the New World.This is the mythology of disease. We blame its transmission on people we despise.

In many cases, it is the role of the journalist to point the public’s attention to things they should be afraid of: that hurricane brewing in the Gulf; air bags that blast shrapnel onto drivers; that sinkhole near the bridge. But there is another – I am tempted to say more important – role. That is to take corrosive fear, the kind that leads to prejudice and hate, and apply the disinfecting light of cool reason and reliable information Read more


Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014


Bergantino issues sharp letter to Putin after detention in Russia

Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Joe Bergantino, New England Center for Investigative Reporting

Joe Bergantino is safely back home in Boston but he is still steaming over being detained in Russia and fired off a letter to Russian President Valdimir Putin. “Was it really necessary to replay a scene from a tired, old cold war movie?” the letter said.

Bergantino, the head of the New England Center for Investigative Reporting was invited by the U.S. State Department to Moscow and St. Petersburg to teach investigative reporting techniques to Russian journalists.

As Bergantino told last week, he had just started teaching the class when Russian immigration officers walked into his classroom and demanded to see his passport and visa. A few minutes later, they came back to the classroom and ordered Bergantino and colleague Randy Covington, director of Newsplex to come with them. After hours of questioning and being hauled before a judge, the two Americans were told they had the wrong visas and would have to shut their journalism workshop down.

Bergantino dashed off a note to Putin Sunday saying, “Among our “subversive” topics: how to be fair and balanced, ethical and thorough, and how to use data to be more precise and accurate.” He continued, “The 14 journalists in the room in St. Petersburg were eager to learn. Instead they were recipients of a not-so-subtle message of power and intimidation, and a reminder of the obstacles they face while you’re in charge.”

Russian journalists interview Bergantino (photo provided by Joe Bergantino)

Russian journalists interview Bergantino (photo provided by Joe Bergantino)

Bergantino said even while he and Covington were being investigated, Russian authorities publicized the detention:

In the interest of fairness, I should note that your immigration service posted our names and the charges against us on its website while we were being detained. You can be transparent when you choose to send a message, which in this case was ‘We’re showing Americans who’s boss.’

And when a Russian TV crew unexpectedly arrived to interview us, your agents offered us tea and cookies.

Bergantino said he believes Putin is trying to send a message to NGOs not to come to Russia to teach journalism. Journalism training groups like Poynter, Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting often work abroad training journalists how to strengthen their interviewing skills, how to be tough but fair and how to use government records in their reporting. Bergantino said he has taught in China, Vietnam and Serbia with no problems.

You’re clearly playing by the bully-strongman playbook.  Strip away freedom of the press and do whatever you please because no one’s holding you accountable. It’s easy being ‘leader’ when those who dare to question you face intimidation and punishment.

Bergantino told me last week that the judge told him that he could return to Russia if he could get the proper visa next time.  Most likely, this letter to Putin lowered the chances of that happening. Read more


Friday, Oct. 03, 2014

What topics do reporters need to get smarter about in 2015?

The Poynter Institute will be conducting free workshops to quickly get reporters up to speed on important issues in 2015 and we are asking our readers for workshop suggestions.

To help reporters get smart fast on key topics in the news, The Poynter Institute conducted workshops this year on subjects like the Affordable Care Act and the Common Core State Standards for education. The Robert R. McCormick Foundation funds these workshops, called McCormick Specialized Reporting Institutes. We will be crowdsourcing what topics will warrant these workshops in 2015.

We’re asking you to help pick next year’s training topics. What subjects do you predict will be in the news next year that reporters would benefit from learning more about? Poynter will carry out three of these news-driven workshops next year, and McCormick and Poynter will select three other organizations to carry out three additional workshops. One will be on the Iowa caucuses.

Tweet your suggestions (hashtag #news15) or fill out a brief survey. Tell us one or two topics important enough to your audience that a reporter should go to a two-day workshop to learn more, then return to the newsroom to report and write.

In November, we’ll accept applications from training groups interested in conducting the workshops. In January, we’ll announce the workshop schedule and describe how to apply. Read more


Monday, June 23, 2014


AP Style should adopt the Oxford comma

It’s great to see that Nate Silver’s 538 is finally hitting its stride. Stepping aside from the conflicts of politics and sports, the data site has decided to weigh in on a controversy that truly ignites the passion of partisans. Forget Red States versus Blue States, campers. Forget Brazil vs. Argentina in the World Cup. Want to see the fur fly? Debate the Oxford comma.

The Oxford or serial comma (which I prefer) is the one that comes before the “and” in a series such as: “Kelly, Al, Kenny, Ellyn, Jill, Butch, and Roy teach at Poynter.” AP style, which Poynter follows, omits that final comma, leaving “Butch and Roy” attached like “Siegfried and Roy.”

I devote a chapter in my book “The Glamour of Grammar” to my preference for that final comma, and now believe that AP style should now include it. Here is a condensed version of what I had to say. Since I’m quoting from a book, the serial comma will be preserved throughout.


Advocate use of the serial comma

I have spent my career navigating between literature and journalism, trying to learn from both worlds. From my training and experience as an English professor, I carried into the newsroom the power of close reading, a respect for narrative, and a theoretical understanding of the writing process. From years of working with reporters and editors, I’ve gained a sense of craft, a respect for readers, and a compass that points me toward mission and purpose.

Though I embody these two language traditions in equal amounts, I have preferences, and some of them are passionate, even about the little things. So I say with the certainty of inevitable contradiction that when it comes to the serial comma, sometimes called the Oxford comma, the literary folks have it right, and the journalists have it wrong. The reader needs that final comma before “and” in a series. I need it.

Despite their common heritage in language, analysis, and storytelling, journalists and the literati belong to two different “discourse communities.” I learned that phrase from scholar Carolyn Matelene, and have found it one of the most useful concepts for understanding language. A simpler way to think of a discourse community is as a “language club,” a place where members share the same lingo.

Philosophers form a language club; so do baseball players; so do jazz musicians; so do trial lawyers, tax lawyers, and estate attorneys; so do medical doctors and witch doctors; so do scientists and Scientologists; so do drug dealers and gang bangers; so do straights and gays; so do Buddhist monks; so do kindergarten kids; so do runway models.

Believe it or not, we are back to the serial comma. For three decades, I have included that final comma in a series only to watch helplessly as my journalism editors pluck it out with tweezers. The absurdity of this situation will become apparent:

  • I will write an essay like this one, inserting serial commas wherever necessary.
  • Mallary Tenore, my former editor at the Poynter Institute, which follows AP style, will take them out for our website.
  • Tracy Behar, my editor at Little, Brown, which favors serial commas, will put them all back in for the book version.

When Mallary writes for her blog, she includes them. “I like them,” she says. “They make things clearer.” So the editor who took out my serial commas fights to keep her own. It’s like being a Yankee fan married to a Red Sox fan. You can’t win.

To own a preference is one thing, to peddle it another, so let’s test the value of the serial comma in a paragraph that contains two of them, from author Michael Paterniti:

But the Mississippi isn’t open for baptisms today. A momentary upriver thaw has set it loose with high water, and by the time it’s made St. Louis, by the time it’s been birthed from its first trickles out of Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota, picked up speed and caught the blue pulse of the St. Croix River south of St. Paul; after it’s already borrowed the Rock River in Illinois, usurped Iowa’s Des Moines, held up the Illinois, and sucked in the Missouri, it’s one pissed and frothy mother rushing with alluvium, sturgeon, and pebbles from pre- history. (from Driving Mr. Albert)

I count 97 words in that passage. The first sentence contains only eight words. That means the author is asking the reader to manage an 89-word sentence, a clever, flowing description, the length of which mimics the actions it describes. Just as a river needs banks, a sentence like this needs just the right punctuation to keep the meaning from flooding our ability to comprehend. That semicolon in the middle provides visual relief and lets the reader take a quick breath. The commas help the author organize two great lists: “borrowed the Rock River in Illinois, usurped Iowa’s Des Moines, held up the Illinois, and sucked in the Missouri” and “rushing with alluvium, sturgeon, and pebbles from pre-history.” Deleting the serial comma leaves holes in the trousers of the story. When I see that final comma followed by “and,” it alerts me that I’m coming to the end of the list and prepares me for the next one.

Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post thinks there’s more at stake here than just a few missing squiggles on the page: “If all this involved only grammar, I might let it lie. But the comma’s sad fate is, I think, a metaphor for something larger: how we deal with the frantic, can’t-wait-a-minute nature of modern life. The comma is, after all, a small sign that flashes PAUSE. It tells the reader to slow down, think a bit, and then move on. We don’t have time for that. No pauses allowed. In this sense, the comma’s fading popularity is also social

An alternative view comes from the punk band Vampire Weekend when they ask the musical question “Who gives a f— about an Oxford comma?” The answer, boys, is “I do.”

Apparently, so do the readers of 538. A majority voted to include it. There is hope for this democracy yet.

Read more


Friday, June 13, 2014


Lessons from London: fact-checkers have passion, but need more checks

Poynter’s inaugural Global Fact-Checking Summit attracted a diverse group of journalists to a London classroom this week.

Two Italians explained their creative ideas for earning money from their work. An energetic editor from Argentina talked about how she uses crowdsourcing to help her reporters. And two young journalists from Ukraine showed how they’ve used digital tools to find manipulated photographs in the Russian media.

Attendees at the Poynter’s Global Fact-Checking Summit in London. (Photo by Shannon Beckham)

The journalists shared something big in common: a passion for fact-checking.

As international conferences go, the Global Fact-Checking Summit was a small one — about 40 fact-checkers, a half-dozen academics who study this growing new form of journalism, plus a handful of representatives from the foundations that paid for the conference. But what it lacked it size, it made up in spirit.

They came from across the globe — India, South Africa, Serbia, Poland, Italy, France, the United States and Chile. Russell Skelton, the head of the ABC Fact Check in Australia, endured a 22-hour flight from Sydney and won the conference prize for the longest trip — a kitschy Barack Obama snow globe.

The two-day conference at the London School of Economics showed fact-checkers are a unique breed. They’re smart and can do sophisticated reporting. They’ve disrupted the status quo by challenging the accuracy of their political leaders. And they’ve developed thick skin to withstand frequent criticism. They are eagle-eyed and even caught a mistake in their Poynter certificates, which said the conference was held in July.

The big news from the meeting was the unanimous decision to form an international association that will hold future conferences, promote fact-checking and help the journalists exchange best practices.

As the organizer of the conference, my big takeaway was the realization that in some countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, impartial fact-checking can’t be done by newspapers and television networks because they are often controlled by the government or political parties. In those countries, it is being done by “media NGOs” — independent groups that play the role of the non-partisan media.

The meeting allowed the fact-checkers to exchange ideas and tips. Italians Alberto Puoti and Alexios Mantzarlis showed a glitzy TV fact-checking segment that reminded many of us of Dancing with the Stars. Paata Gaprindashvili of the GRASS FactCheck in Georgia played a video that used a wonderfully simple animation to explain a complicated subject.

But for all the great highlight-reel moments, there were plenty of reminders about some big challenges facing the London attendees:

  • Although fact-checking is flourishing in the United States and Europe, there are only a few sites in Africa and South America.
  • In many countries, fact-checking can be difficult because of the lack of reliable government data.
  • No one has found a sustainable business model for fact-checking.

That looms as the biggest challenge. Fact-checking sites don’t typically draw enough traffic to be commercially successful, so they have to get substantial support from large news organizations and foundations.

One of the most popular panels at the London conference was about finding new revenue sources. It began with gloomy comments from editors saying they were facing big funding cuts in the near future. But the conversation turned hopeful as the panelists offered some creative ideas to raise money.

Chequeado, a site in Argentina, hosts a big fund-raiser called “The Night of Chequeado.” in the United States raises about $80,000 a year from individual donations. Pagella Politica, a site in Italy, is exploring offering a variety of services that could bring in revenue, including selling its data and writing background briefs for television hosts about the fact-check records of politicians.

Mantzarlis, co-creator of Pagella Politica, said fact-checking takes a lot of time and effort, which means “there is definitely value in it.” So why not try to recoup some of that value?

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the fact-checkers is changing their mindset, something the new association is likely to address. They are not just journalists any more, they are managers and entrepreneurs who must find a way to keep their ventures sustainable.

Laura Zommer, the executive director of Chequeado, said fundraising required a big change in her approach.

“The most important thing,” she said, “is not to be shy.”

Bill Adair is the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Poynter and is the creator of PolitiFact.
Read more


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

ergey Brin wears Google Glass glasses at an announcement for the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences at Genentech Hall on UCSF’s Mission Bay campus in San Francisco, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013.

Live chat replay: Glass journalism and teaching when we don’t have all the answers

Robert Hernandez, one of Web journalism’s earliest, most influential innovators, joined us for a live chat Wednesday on Google Glass and a class he will be leading in the fall on “Glass journalism.”

Robert Hernandez

Hernandez teaches at the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism as assistant professor of professional practice. He took questions on Google Glass as an emerging tool for newsgathering and storytelling. He also discussed how educators can grapple with a subject that generates more questions than answers — one of the challenges in teaching new technologies and evolving concepts.

This chat was a lead-up to Teachapalooza, Poynter’s college educator seminar scheduled for June 20-22 at our St. Petersburg institute. Hernandez will be among the teaching faculty. The deadline to register is Friday, May 16.

You can replay this chat at any time and visit to find an archive of all past chats.

Read more


Monday, May 12, 2014


The Pyramid of Journalism Competence: what journalists need to know

What does a journalist need to know?

What defines “competence” in journalism?

When you graduate from a journalism school, what should you know how to do?

In the digital age, the answers to those questions are more important than ever. For more than three decades now, they have been near the center of conversation and debate at Poynter. Before we could figure out what to teach, we needed to understand – in the public interest – what journalists needed to learn.

This process was energized in 1997 by a call to action from Tom Rosenstiel, one of the leaders of a group called the Committee of Concerned Journalists. Over the next two years, the committee conducted “21 public forums attended by 3,000 people and involving testimony from more than 300 journalists,” according to the book “The Elements of Journalism” by Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach.

Poynter was asked to conduct one of those forums on a most challenging topic: What does it mean to be a competent journalist? And so we did.

In preparation for this conference on Feb. 26, 1998, the Poynter faculty, under my direction, built an edifice we came to call the Pyramid of Competence. This structure comprised 10 blocks. The cornerstones were news judgment and reporting. The foundation also included language and analysis. The central stone was technology, between audio-visual knowledge and numeracy. Closer to the top were civic and cultural literacy. At the apex was ethics.

The pyramid has had an interesting history, inside and outside the institute. Its most serious consideration came from the accrediting council of AEJMC. At a time when the standards for accreditation were under review, leaders such as Trevor Brown, dean at Indiana University, thought the ideas behind the pyramid would lead to a clearer articulation of educational “outcomes,” what students should expect to get out of a journalism education.

Much has changed in the world of journalism since the pyramid was constructed. New media platforms have been invented; business models have collapsed; arguments about who is a journalist abound. Pyramids may be tombs for dead kings, but they have a way of hanging around – for a long time.

What you are about to experience is the most up-to-date version of the Pyramid of Competence. It contains 10 sections, one for each of the competencies. It begins with a description and a definition, followed by a list of imagined courses that could impart that competency, topped off with an example of an essay that could be used to cultivate that area of journalistic knowledge.

You will find in these descriptions language that, we hope, is contemporary, including words such as “curation,” “aggregation,” and “data visualization,” language that was not part of journalism study when the pyramid was first created.

There were some key questions that were not resolved when the pyramid was built — and that remain unresolved. The big question is this: How many of these competencies should reside in any individual journalist? Or is it possible and desirable to imagine that these competencies can reside across a news organization, expressed in the work of specialists? In short, should the writer of the story also know how to develop an algorithm of data analysis and also be able to design a page?

Our tentative answer (perhaps I should restate that as “my” tentative answer) is that versatility is one of the most important virtues in contemporary journalism. That does not mean that the journalist need be an expert in all these areas. But it requires the journalist to be able to converse with colleagues in these areas across disciplines and “without an accent.” Competence is not a synonym for expertise.

We invite you to climb the Pyramid of Competence. Let us know how the world of journalism looks when you reach the top.

* * * * *

News Judgment

This competence resides in every academic discipline but is made manifest in powerful ways in the study and practice of journalism.

On any given day – or minute – the journalist (especially the editor) sorts through the events and concerns of the moment, hoping to determine which of them deserves the special attention of general and particular audiences.

Decisions on what to publish are based on two broad categories, expressed here in the form of questions:

• Is it important?

• Is it interesting?

There are, of course, important things that may not be interesting – a fluctuation in the money supply. Interesting things – celebrity divorces – may not be important. But on many days, the two categories will converge:

• The attacks of 9/11.

• The oil spill in the Gulf.

• The collapse of the economy in 2008.

• The election of the first African-American president.

• The rate of suicide of soldiers returned from war.

All these are terribly interesting and crucially important, relevant at some level to every person on the planet. Such stories deserve a standing at the top of the news ladder.

But these choices are obvious. The importance of news is relative. On some days news is slow so that an alligator attack across the state gets more attention than it may deserve. Then there are big news days when stories elbow each other for prominence. A significant tropical storm that hit Tampa Bay in 2001 got much less attention than usual because it happened the week of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

An editor with rich experience and refined news judgment will be able to see important news that is invisible to others. This is an invaluable civic, democratic, and commercial power. An expert is paying attention.

[News judgment describes the cognitive acts of understanding what matters: what is most important or most interesting. It is exercised in such practices as the generation of story ideas by reporters; by selection and play of stories by news editors; by the curation and aggregation of items on the Internet.]

Courses that would enrich news judgment

• Reporting I & II

• Advanced Reporting

• Editing I & II

• Investigative Reporting

• Computer-Assisted Reporting

• Work on School Publications

• Internships at News Organizations

• Media & Society

• News & Media Literacy

• Understanding Social Networks

An essay to read that would enhance news judgment

“From Politics to Human Interest,” by Helen MacGill Hughes

Reporting and Evidence

If news judgment sits as one cornerstone of the pyramid of competence, reporting serves as the other. In an academic context, reporting represents the gathering, verification, and distribution of evidence.

• Why is the price of gasoline so high?

• Where is the balance between personal privacy and national security?

• What were the root causes for the attacks on America on 9/11?

• Is Apple exploiting Chinese workers?

The answers to these questions cannot be simply asserted. Reporters and other news researchers must go out, gather evidence from reliable sources, check it out, and present it in the public interest.

Journalists of various types learn different methods of hunting and gathering information: documents (such as court records), minutes or notes taken at meetings, chronologies, interviews, public records, direct observation, participant observation, immersion reporting, data analysis, participation in social networks – these are just some of the methods journalists use to gain a meaningful picture of the world.

Science, law, economics, ethnography – each discipline offers a distinctive perspective on what constitutes good evidence. The big word for this in philosophy is “epistemology,” the philosophy of knowing. In journalism the questions might go simply, “How do reporters know?”

Academic study takes this to another level, “How do they KNOW what they know?”

[Reporting and Evidence represent the process and products of research.

The traditional methods of reporting all involve finding things out and checking them out, what Kovach and Rosenstiel describe as a discipline of verification, not assertion. Evidence involves tests of reliability, often based on knowledge of the sources. Reporters gather evidence, which is then tested against the standards of editors. Investigations, often to expose wrongdoing, require different standards of evidence than traditional reporting. Forms of evidence are gathered by photographers and documentary videographers, and, most recently, by computer-assisted and data-management efforts. Since standards of evidence differ in various disciplines, knowledge of a field outside of journalism – law, economics, biology – enrich all acts of reporting.]

Courses that would enrich reporting and evidence

• Reporting I & II

• Public Service Reporting

• Fact-Checking and Verification

• Computer-Assisted Reporting

• Scientific Method

• Ethnography

• Rules of Evidence

• Philosophy of Knowledge

• Quantitative Methods

An essay to read that would enhance reporting and evidence

“Getting the Story in Vietnam,” by David Halberstam

Language and Storytelling

The pyramid of journalism competence is built upon a foundation. One of its blocks is the effective use of language to express reports, stories, and other appropriate forms of communication.

Canadian scholar Stuart Adam argues that, at heart, journalists are a type of author, the work existing on a spectrum that extends from the civic to the literary. Competent journalists exhibit versatility in this area, demonstrating the capacity to write in different genres and for different media – long or short, fast or slow – for a variety of audiences and platforms.

A key distinction is between reports and stories. At the heart of journalism remains the neutral, unbiased report, still grounded in the traditional questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Using what semanticist S.I. Hayakawa termed “unloaded” language, the reporter sorts through the evidence to provide audiences with good information in the public interest.

The yang to the yin of the report is the story. The product of story is not information, but experience, and the effect is not just actionable knowledge, but empathy. This is created by the transformation of elements of reporting into narrative, so that who becomes character, what becomes scenic action, when becomes chronology, where becomes setting, why (always the most difficult) becomes motive, and how becomes how it happened.

There are forms of reportage and narrative that are expressed via other media and methods (we’ll get to these). But the written word on the page is the basis for all others.

[Language and Storytelling come to the journalist through normal intellectual development, but are enhanced by the practice of authorship, the study of language (including a foreign language), experimentation with a variety of narrative strategies in multiple genres across media platforms.]

Courses that would enrich language and storytelling

• Elements of Language

• Latin

• Composition I & II

• Surveys of English and American Literature

• Poetry

• Advanced Reporting

• Nonfiction Narrative

• Theories of Narrative

• Foreign Language

An essay to read that would enhance language and storytelling

“Politics and the English Language,” by George Orwell

Analysis and Interpretation

To quote the 1947 Hutchins Commission report, “It is no longer enough to report the fact truthfully. It is now necessary to report the truth about the fact.” Context, meaning, trends, relationships, tensions all must appear on the radar screen of the discerning journalist. Some scoops are conceptual.

“Critical thinking” has become too vague a concept to describe this capacity. This form of literacy falls somewhere between analysis and interpretation and is often conveyed in arguments, commentary, opinion, and investigative reporting.

• How does a sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University resemble the one inside the Catholic Church?

• In what sense has global economics given us a “flat” world?

• Can the events of 9/11/2001 really be traced back to political and religious forces in Egypt, dating back to 1948?

The ability to see such questions, to analyze them and derive meaning from them, comes from the exercise of cognitive muscles toned in the gymnasia of traditional academic disciplines, from studies as diverse as evolutionary biology to anthropology to calculus to world literature.

Formal journalism study that is too narrow (with too many courses specifically about journalism) may result in short-term gains at the expense of long-term progress in a career. The aspiring journalist needs the enrichment of the Arts, Humanities, and Sciences; it is from those deep wells that the competent journalist can draw.

[Analysis and Interpretation describe the ability of the journalist to make sense of the often jumbled and chaotic movements of the day. In a deadline story or in a book, the journalist gains audience and credibility when he or she can discern trends, patterns, a higher or deeper level of meaning. This has no agreed-up name, but comes under phrases such as “sense-making,” “gaining altitude,” “conceptual scoops,” and “collateral journalism.”]

Courses that would enrich analysis and interpretation

• Myth and Literature

• History of Science

• Abnormal Psychology

• Quantum Physics

• Principles of Economy

• Art Appreciation

• Technology and Society

An essay to read that would enhance analysis and interpretation

“The Dark Continent of American Journalism,” by James W. Carey


Innumeracy can be as bad as illiteracy in a profession – especially one such as journalism that describes its members as watchdogs in the public interest. Corruption of power – by banks or governments – often involves the abuse of numbers. The ability to work with numbers – especially for those with a natural word orientation – enriches reporting capacity exponentially.

[If you do not know the meaning of the metaphor “exponential,” you may have some work to do.]

Let’s take the case of the young reporter who asks a state commissioner of education why the budget for pre-school education was cut last year. “Check your facts, please,” says the commissioner. “Our budget increased by one percent,” and that’s what the reporter put in a draft of the story. Until a more numerate editor asked “What was the inflation rate last year?” Turned out, it was 3 percent. So that in real dollars, the value of money to be spent on education did, indeed, decline.

More and more, the numbers tell the story. The analysis and presentation of numbers – described in the jargon “big data” – adds in the reporting of such diverse topics as to whether state lottery revenues actually contribute to education, to the probable winners in an electoral cycle, to whether or not a certain economic policy is discriminatory, to the workings of a successful fantasy football league.

A lack of numeracy has been described as the “dark hole” of journalism competence. It need not be that way. In fact, the analysis of numbers often reveals a secret part of the world that can be explored by reporters and storytellers. Reporter Mara Hvistendahl knew that in normal circumstances 105 boy babies are born for every 100 girl babies. Her research discovered that the Chinese port city of Lianyungang has a gender ratio for children under five of 163 boys for every 100 girls. Armed with such numbers she set off for Asia to report their human consequences.

[Numeracy is most often the ability to use computation skills (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) to understand the world. For some stories, higher skills are necessary, including the ability to report for numbers, understand probability and statistics, and work with basic economic concepts – such as adjusting for inflation. Journalists also make routine decisions about what information to include in print stories, and which ones to illustrate graphically.]

Courses that would enrich numeracy

• Probability and Statistics

• College Level Algebra (and more advanced courses in mathematics)

• Math for Journalists

• Econometrics

• Quantitative Social Science Methodology

• Investigative Reporting

An essay to read that would enhance numeracy

“The Scientific Way,” by Victor Cohn


It may be obvious to state the importance of technological literacy in the digital age, but consider the complexity of this: that many students raised with the Internet may be, in important ways, more technologically literate than their professors. Universities must grapple with who has the capacity to teach students about technology in the interests of journalism and democracy.

The key for journalism competence is to understand technology in two ways:

1. How technology undergirds changing forms of journalism – the way that the telegraph liberated news from geography and transportation.

2. How technology acts as a force that changes society – for better and worse – thus demanding coverage in the news itself.

The competent journalist must be prepared to work successfully in a variety of media platforms, from print to video to digital to mobile – including forms that have not yet been invented. Just as “computer assisted reporting” once enriched investigative work, there is now new potential in forms of computer programming, data analysis and display.

Technological innovations can be disruptive, placing demands on the competent journalist to manage change, and often to embrace it, but it does not require achieving escape velocity from enduring values and traditions.

What is called for here is neither technophilia nor phobia, but a techno-realism that recognizes the gains and compensates for the losses brought by new technologies.

[Technology literacy includes abilities in word processing, search and research functions, social networking, blogging, programming, mobile applications, data analysis and display, aggregation and curation.]

Courses that would enrich technological competency

• History of Technology

• Technology, Community, Culture

• Computer Science

• Introduction to Programming

• Computer-Assisted Reporting

• Introduction to Blogging

• Data Analysis and Display

An essay to read that would enhance technological literacy

“Into the Electronic Millennium,” by Sven Birkerts


Long before the invention of the written word, humans created forms of storytelling that took care of their informational and aspirational needs. Drawings on cave walls in France tell stories of the hunt and of the gods. Oral poetry – often recited to music – defined cultures and described heroes and enemies.

The audio and visual have evolved as crucial modes of journalism expression, a movement magnified by the Internet.

While there remains a place for journalism specialization, versatility is a virtue of the day. The backpack journalist collects photos, videos, sound, and writes texts. The cell phone is a tool that allows the collection of all these elements in the palm of the hand.

But one key feature of favorite technologies is their design. The world’s great designers have turned their attention from newspapers and magazines to websites and blogs to mobile technologies such as the iPhone and iPad. Audio and visual elements enrich everything from news navigation to data display to storytelling in multi-media and multiple media forms.

Radio remains a powerful medium for journalism worldwide, and famous networks such as the BBC and NPR now use text and visual elements on their websites.

This is one literacy in which collaboration is crucial and the best work undertaken comes from the marriage of writing, editing, and design.

[Audio-Visual literacy is expressed through photography and video, design and illustration, the use of color, creation of slide shows and other multi-media productions, the use of natural sound, and the use of music, when appropriate.]

Courses that would enrich audio-visual literacy

• History of Western Art

• 20th Century Art (Modern & Post-Modern)

• Theories of Color

• History of Photography

• Art and Craft of Photo Composition

• Multi-Media Reporting and Editing

• Music Appreciation

• Selected Masters of Classical Music

• Jazz

• Musical Performance (any instrument, including voice)

An essay to read that would enhance audio-visual literacy

“In Plato’s Cave,” by Susan Sontag

Civic literacy

The teaching of civics in American public or private schools has never been known as ideal – even in decades past. Read more


Wednesday, Apr. 09, 2014

core skills report cover

Journalism needs the right skills to survive

Despite the economic imperatives facing the media industry, professional journalists lag behind educators and others in rating the importance of multimedia and other digital storytelling skills.

That finding is the result of new research from The Poynter Institute, which shows a wide divergence between professionals and educators in their thinking on the importance of core journalism skills, especially those skills that are essential for mastering new methods of gathering and delivering news and information. It is unclear whether educators are putting too much emphasis on these skills or whether professionals have a different perspective given their day-to-day work.

The Core Skills for the Future of Journalism report, released today, raises the puzzling question as to why the professionals who responded to the survey don’t rate the importance of multimedia skills in today’s visual, multiplatform media landscape as highly as educators, students and independent journalists.

Educators who responded also value knowledge about the business of media and the larger media landscape much higher than journalists working in media organizations. And, to a greater degree than professionals, educators appear to recognize the value of key newsgathering skills that have become more essential in the digital age, such as the ability to analyze and synthesize large amounts of data.

Poynter’s Future of Journalism Competencies survey identified 37 key skills or attributes and knowledge areas. The survey asked professionals, educators and students to rate the importance of those skills, attributes and knowledge areas for beginning journalists as they look toward careers in the digital and mobile age.

The report can be downloaded from here. On Thursday, April 10, co-authors Howard Finberg and Lauren Klinger discussed the findings in a webinar sponsored by the Knight Foundation. The replay is available free for viewing.

Professionals at media organizations rated the importance of all of the multimedia skills much lower than did educators, students and even independent or freelance journalists. The difference is striking.
For example, few would argue that video skills are set to decline in importance in the future.

  • Less than half (46 percent) of the professionals who responded said that ability was important to very important
  • Yet more than three-fourths (76 percent of educators) regarded this skill as important to very important

Photography, an essential skill since most reporters today are equipped with smartphones or cameras, is less important to professionals than to educators.

A slightly higher percentage of professionals (53 percent) thought it was important to very important that a journalist have the ability to shoot and edit photographs. However, more than 75 percent of educators in the survey thought photography skills were important to very important.

Given the evolving platforms for journalism — the Web, phones, tablets —  these difference between professionals and educators (and the other groups surveyed) are noteworthy.

The gap may indicate that professionals in media organizations, both staff members and managers, have not fully embraced the importance of digital skills so essential to online and other new forms of journalism. While not all of the core skills surveyed should be emphasized equally when it comes to training today’s beginning journalists, all are important.

As more journalism is produced for the Web, for tablets and for other mobile devices — not just published on them — it is striking that professionals who responded placed relatively little importance upon the skills necessary to shoot video, record audio, take photographs and tell visual stories. There were also gaps in other categories that are important to understanding the global digital media environment, including understanding different cultures and the media landscape.

Tom Huang, Sunday and enterprise editor of The Dallas Morning News, in an email about the survey’s results, argued that perhaps professionals are weighing traditional skills and digital skills carefully:

So while I recognize the importance of digital skills, if I had to choose, I’d first choose journalists with “traditional” skills and then train them on digital skills, rather than the other way around. I think the point of the survey, though, is that we shouldn’t have to choose. New journalists should come equipped with a whole host of skills, both traditional and digital.

Perhaps, given the drumbeat about educators not “going digital” over the past three years from various individuals, including the report’s co-author Howard Finberg and the Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton, the finding that educators are becoming more digital-savvy should not be surprising.

Sue Burzynski Bullard, associate professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and former managing editor of The Detroit News, said she wasn’t surprised that educators rated digital skills highly in the survey.

“After the 2012 call for change in journalism education,” she wrote in an email, “the debate among educators about what journalism graduates need to know got louder. It became harder to ignore the need for change. Most educators would say it’s important that our students understand digital skills and multimedia storytelling if they’re going to find jobs in today’s journalism world. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean every journalism professor is ready or willing to incorporate those skills into their classes yet. That’s still evolving. And in some cases, it’s still a battle.”

It is important to remember that saying a skill is important, which was our survey question, is not the same as using or teaching that skill. However, the first step in doing something new is to acknowledge its importance.

Karen Magnuson, editor and vice president/news at the Democrat and Chronicle Media Group [Rochester, N.Y.], expressed in an email that she is skeptical about whether these skills are being taught:

Educators may think all of those things are important but the results coming out of colleges are very mixed. My personal experience with journalism grads is that they fall into one of two categories:  solid writers/reporters with limited digital skill sets or multimedia journalists who are great with video but don’t understand how to work a beat or dig much deeper than what’s given in a press release or press conference.  Both types are problematic in today’s newsrooms.  We need it all!

However, it appears that educators have listened to the debate about the need to change, at least enough to acknowledge the importance of new skills. But the question remains what professionals are hearing when it comes to the need to change what they do. And whether there is a disconnect between the staff members, as represented in the survey, and the senior management at various newspaper companies who are pushing their organizations to change.

During the past 10 years, the media industry has seen the decline of the specialist and the corresponding rise of the generalist. It started in the broadcast industry with “one-man band” journalism, where the reporter is also the camera person and sound engineer, and it has spread to print publications. Print journalists are routinely expected to take pictures and record sound bites and even video to complement their text-based stories so that those stories make compelling content for digital platforms.

If professionals need another indicator that the workplace is changing, they only have to consider the disappearance of journalism jobs. Print media have lost 16,000 jobs in the past decade, a drop of almost 30 percent, according to the American Society of News Editors, reported in the Pew State of the News Media 2014 report. The survivors are expected to take on new digital-focused tasks. In the same time frame, Pew estimates that about 5,000 new journalism jobs have been created — in digital-only news outlets.

It seems obvious that digital skills are essential for any journalist who wants to succeed in the 21st century.

Thus a discussion about skills is part of the larger debate about the future of journalism education. During the past two years, academics, foundation leaders and professionals have expressed a wide range of opinions about whether journalism education can be saved — and even whether a journalism degree is valuable.

Two Poynter studies on the topic showed an enormous gulf between professionals and professors about the value of a journalism degree. The first survey was conducted in 2012 as research for a speech I gave at a 20th anniversary celebration for the European Journalism Centre. That survey had responses from more than 2,000 professionals and educators.

The second study, the State of Journalism Education 2013, showed:

  • 96 percent of those who identified themselves as educators believed that a journalism degree was very important to extremely important when it came to understanding the value of journalism
  • Editors and those who worked in journalism had a less favorable opinion, with only 57 percent of professionals saying that a degree was very important to extremely important

Future of Journalism Competencies survey results

Our new research report is based on the Future of Journalism Competencies survey, which was conducted in late 2013 and early 2014. The survey received more than 2,900 responses from media organization professionals, independent or freelance journalists, educators and students. The participation breakdown was:

  • Professionals: 1,124, 39 percent; 425 participants identified themselves as managers or senior editors
  • Educators: 996 participants, 34 percent
  • Independent journalists: 356, 12 percent
  • Students or recent grads: 426, 15 percent

Survey participants were asked to indicate the importance of 37 different skills and attributes for a “beginning journalist as he/she looks toward his/her career in the digital/mobile age.” The 37 skills were derived from two academic papers, one by Nico Drok and the other by Michael Opgenhaffen and his co-authors.

The survey used a five-point scale, with one labeled “not at all important” and five labeled “very important.” The skills were grouped into four different categories:

  • Knowledge, attitudes and personal features or values had 19 skills
  • Newsgathering had 7 skills
  • Basic news production had 6 skills
  • Technical or multimedia production had 5 skills

This example is representative of how we asked survey questions: At your organization, what newsgathering skills do you think beginning journalists need to have? Rate the following newsgathering skills from Not at All Important to Very Important. We used similar wording for the general attitudes, news production and multimedia topics.

Results from the Core Skills for the Future of Journalism show alignment between professionals and educators on the traditional and foundational attitudes and skills needed for beginning journalists — and divergence when it comes to those abilities essential for today’s journalism. Some of the report’s highlights are described in the next sections.

Knowledge, attitudes and personal features

Nearly all of the participants surveyed agreed on some essential skills and traits for today’s journalists. The number-one rated skill was “accuracy,” followed by “curiosity.”

  • Professionals rated “accuracy” at 96 percent as important to very important; educators rated this skill at 99 percent
  • Educators rated “curiosity” at 98 percent as important to very important; professionals rated this attribute at 93 percent

The top-10 skills lists of both professional and educator survey participants included most of the same skills, although the order varied. Of the skills that didn’t make both top-10 lists, only two (“storytelling” and “master interview techniques”) diverged by more than a few percentage points.

However, significant differences were found between professionals and educators when it came to rating other knowledge, attitudes and personal features. For example:

  • Three-quarters (76 percent) of educators said that “knowledge of other cultures” is important to very important; only half (52 percent) of professionals agreed
  • The gap was a little narrower when it came to “knowledge of government,” with almost 70 percent of professionals rating this as important to very important versus 83 percent of educators

Both of these knowledge questions raise essential issues around effective coverage of institutions and communities. With the increasing diversity of the United States population, having some understanding of other cultures would make for more effective journalism — journalism where more individuals would see themselves within the stories being covered.

Aly Colón, former director of standards and practices at NBC News and now the Knight Chair for Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, believes that the issue might be one of focus rather than importance. Colón wrote in an email that:

“In general, professionals focus on what they do daily, and educators focus on what they see emerging: the practical versus the prescient.

“In newsrooms dominated by white males and fighting to survive, craft skills may trump cultural knowledge. And the decline of minority journalists, who lost jobs or sought employment elsewhere, leaves today’s shrinking newsrooms without advocates for expanding cultural knowledge. Educators, however, may see increasing cultural diversification in their classrooms and in their research. They recognize their students will enter a more multicultural world and need to learn about other cultures if they hope to provide more complete coverage of their communities.”

However, that doesn’t explain the fact that the gap between professionals and educators cut across a range of skills, including essential digital skills.

Skills for innovation

Today’s media landscape is littered with failed attempts at innovation. Traditional publications and broadcast stations struggle to find new audiences, as well as new approaches, for journalism that is increasingly affected by technology. In addition, many staff members are asked to think about ways to create new products that have both journalistic merit and revenue potential. Yet, professionals in our survey did not see knowledge about the business of media as important.

  • More than a third of professionals in the survey (38 percent) said “having knowledge of the business of media” was important to very important
  • But far more — 61 percent — educators said business knowledge was important to very important
  • Students, at 71 percent, and independent journalists at 64 percent, agreed with educators, saying that business understanding was important to very important

Related to understanding the business is “understanding the media landscape.” This ability helps media professionals recognize the importance of emerging media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook — and anticipate the next Twitter and Facebook.

Again, the professionals found this skill to be less important than did educators.

  • 78 percent of educators responded that understanding the media landscape is an important to very important skill
  • 57 percent of professionals responded that understanding the media landscape is an important to very important skill
  • Independent journalists, at 75 percent, and students, at 78 percent, were closely aligned with the educators

Jeff Jarvis, professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY and a frequent critic of the lack of innovation in both the industry and education, proposed a possible explanation for the findings in an email requesting his opinion:

“Educators are closer to the future because they are closer to the students, who are worried about supporting themselves and thus about the sustainability of the field and who chose to come to journalism school now because they want to be part of the disruption. Thus it’s good to see the educators and the students and independent journalists in sync.”

One who does worry about the future of the business is Mizell Stewart, vice president/content, newspaper division, The E.W. Scripps Co., who sees organizations making this digital transformation. Stewart wrote in an email:

“The range of skills necessary to navigate this transition goes far, far beyond bread-and-butter competencies such as writing, editing and practicing the discipline of verification. Teamwork and collaboration, audience engagement, marketing, project management, data journalism, video editing … the list goes on and on. Along the way, we also have to understand what it takes to build successful digital news and information businesses with revenue models that may be very, very different than the ones we know today.”

Newsgathering skills

The ability to find and make sense of information is almost the definition of newsgathering, so it seems safe to call this an essential skill for the beginning journalist. We asked professionals and educators to rate the importance of two key aspects of newsgathering that require this ability. Both the ability to analyze and synthesize large amounts of data and the ability to interpret statistical data were rated as more important by educators than by professionals.

When it comes to the ability to “analyze and synthesize large amounts of data,” a little more than half (55 percent) of the professionals responded that this was important to very important. Almost three-fourths (73 percent) of the educators rated this skill as important to very important.

The response to the question about the ability to “interpret statistical data and graphics” was similar:

  • 59 percent of professionals and
  • 80 percent of educators called this skill important to very important

Given the large amounts of data available on the Internet and the growing importance of presenting information in a pleasing and informative visual manner, the gap between educators and professionals is disturbing. The ability to make sense of our complex world by distilling meaningful information from the vast river of data is one of the great values professional journalists can offer their audience.

Related to those newsgathering skills is the ability to “search for news and check sources without the use of the Internet.” Today’s journalism students have grown up with Google. It is an instinctive response: Have a question? Look it up online. But not everything is online, and not everything online is accurate or complete. Yet having the ability to find and verify information “offline” is seen as a much more important skill by educators than by professionals.

News production skills

The good news with this area of abilities is the alignment between educators and professionals on the importance of skills needed to turn newsgathering into news production. Respondents in both groups attached similar levels of importance to such skills as storytelling, writing in a fluent style, using correct grammar and understanding audience expectations and needs.

A gap appeared in only one skill area: the ability to “master various forms of journalistic writing.” Again, professionals rated this skill as less important than did educators:

  • More than two-thirds (68 percent) of professionals rated this skill as important to very important; managers were slightly higher at 70 percent
  • But 84 percent of educators in the survey said the ability to “master various forms of journalistic writing” was important to very important

In the multiplatform media environment, the skill to write different types of stories would seem to be essential. Today, print journalists write for the Web and often prepare video segments; broadcast journalists need to write for the Web and provide additional material to support their video and/or audio stories. Few journalists work exclusively on one platform.

The failure to recognize the importance of mastering a variety of forms might explain the results found in another skill area, though — technical skills. If professionals have not completely accepted the need for proficiency on multiple platforms, they are unlikely to appreciate the need for technical proficiency.

Technical or multimedia production skills

This category showed the greatest gap between professionals and educators, especially around multimedia skills. Read more


Wednesday, Mar. 05, 2014

Christopher Callahan, dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications, at the downtown campus of Arizona State University Friday, Nov. 14, 2008 in Phoenix.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

How journalism schools can innovate by teaching tech reporting

Almost every journalism school either has or intends to revisit what they teach. Even before Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton led the call for a reformation of journalism schools, the momentum was clear: there was going to be educational disruption, and every school needed to position itself as the J-school of the future.

In recent years, much of what has happened falls into two categories: bringing “entrepreneurship into the curriculum” or using the “teaching hospital” metaphor. Both have merits. And the recent Knight education challenge fund administered through ONA is a great way to continue to push boundaries. And in that vein, I want to offer a third option, one that I haven’t seen widely adopted but that I think could bear fruit.

Your J-school should have a technology reporting class.

My personal story: I started out as a technology reporter. It was after the first dot-com bust and before the full rise of Web 2.0. Because I was reporting about new technologies, it was inevitable that I became engaged in online communities and tools. How can you report on an industry if you don’t understand how people in that industry are communicating? How can you report on a cultural shift if you don’t fully understand how it engages people?

When I started as a technology reporter I wasn’t @Digidave. In fact, before 2003 I was not very tech-savvy. But if you’re a motivated reporter you learn the nuances, the details. You study quickly. Creating my first blog was an occupational requirement.

When he taught new media at Columbia’s J-school, Sree Sreenivasan would talk about “new media skill set, and new media mind set.” The former can be taught: learning Photoshop, photography, video, etc. But the latter must be absorbed. That’s the real trick of building technology journalism into a school’s curriculum.

Technology isn’t something students should learn because “it’s the future.” Students can learn about technology because it will be their beat and they want to be good reporters. When students aren’t even paying attention, they’ll begin to understand the power of technology, the richness of the industry and the culture of the community.

For the traditionalists: Have no fear, it’s still reporting! A tech reporting class isn’t about gadgets and gizmos and “whosits and whatsits galore.” It’s about reporting and writing. Unlike most “teaching hospital” classes, the topic is around an industry rather than a geography. But it’s an exciting industry that has giants like Google/Facebook as well as new upstarts run by people not much older than your students.

Tech reporting requires desk reporting, but it is done best with old-fashioned boots on the ground, making sources, calling, following up, etc. You want students to learn how to report and write. They can do that while on the tech beat.

For the small J-school: You probably want to bring entrepreneurship and technology into your curriculum but maybe you haven’t been able to attract the high-profile journo-preneurs-coders. Maybe the multimillion-dollar foundation grant to fund the new innovation building is out of reach. Starting a technology beat class isn’t.

Tech beats aren’t limited to San Francisco. There are hubs in Los Angeles, New York, Austin, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Boston, Charleston, Seattle and more. There are plenty of technology hubs beyond the obvious. Where’s your J-school? Where’s your closest tech hub?

Technology needs better coverage. Tech reporting for the most part is weak. There are great examples out there, but the preponderance of technology coverage stems from sources that are part of the industry itself. I’m not just talking about the fact that the major technology blogs take VC money. Those conflicts can be disclosed and navigated. Rather, it’s the sense that the very existence of tech blogs depends on the success of the technology industry as a whole. If the tech industry doesn’t have a massive consumer base of people buying gadgets or using web products, then the tech blogs have no market either.

A university tech reporting class is sheltered from market realities. It can do enterprise reporting from a unique angle. It’s an angle I think could be refreshing.

David Cohn is director of news at Circa and a member of Poynter’s adjunct faculty. Previously he worked on some of the first endeavors exploring crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in journalism. You can find him on Twitter at @digidave.

Related training: Core Skills for the 21st Century Journalist Read more


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