Traditional Skills Most Important in Online Newsrooms

The Online News Association has released a study of job skills needed in online newsrooms. The research was conducted a little less than a year ago by C. Max Magee during his master’s degree studies at the Medill School of Journalism, where I teach. More than 400 people working in online news, from big companies to blogs, filled out the  survey. Managers were asked about skills they were looking for in a job candidate;  content producers were asked what skills they use most in their job.

The report is a pretty easy read (10 pages in PDF, about half of which is charts). A few of the key findings:

     
  • The most important skills/qualities in online newsrooms are not related to technology or the Web. They are things like attention to detail, news judgment, grammar and style, multitasking skills, communication skills and ability to work under time pressure.

  • Less than half the producers and managers said reporting original stories was part of the job expectations for online newsrooms.

  • HTML, Photoshop, use of a content management system and Web usability are the most important tools and technologies for online newsroom workers.

As an educator, one of my biggest takeaways is that the traditional journalism job that most resembles online newsroom roles is that of copy editor. What online newsrooms need are people who have news judgment and can copy edit, write headlines, package and present content on a page.

Of course, the way these functions are carried out is different online than in a print newsroom. But I think a good print copy editor would probably have a much easier time transitioning to an online producer job than a print reporter would. Given that most online news jobs don’t involve original reporting, copy editors should be more interested  in these jobs than most print reporters are.

With the challenges the print newspaper industry faces, if I were working as a print copy editor right now, I’d be trying to learn the new Web-specific skills I’d need to move over to the online operation. And if I were running a journalism school with a strong focus on copy editing (Medill is more reporting-focused), I would be scrambling to update the curriculum to prepare online producers.

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