Redefining Journalist Roles

Redefining the Roles of the Journalist





Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab at American University, believes there could be a greater role for journalism education than the current one

“Journalism schools, in my view, should be recasting themselves as a gateway to just about any career a student wants to have. If it happens to be in journalism, that’s fine (…) Journalism skills are a great baseline for medical, law or business degrees.”

He is one of the many people interviewed in the report “Above and Beyond. Looking at the Future of Journalism Education” from the Knight Foundation on the future of journalism education” by Dianne Lynch.

Even though the report was written in 2015, it seems very fresh indeed on its outlook on the challenges of the media industry. Lynch concludes that while the essence of journalism hasn’t changed, the way journalists work has been revolutionised. The new journalist roles makes an upgrade of journalism education needed NOW!

New Journalists Roles

Journalism schools and media professionals agree that he current education does not keep up with the changes in the field. Almost half of industry people and close to 40 per cent of the educators say that education is behind.

But what does the changes in the field mean for the roles of the journalist today? Lynch interviews journalism educators and industry people to establish these new journalist roles and concludes we must be:

  1. Analysts, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs: journalist students must work interdisciplinary and learn teamwork, design processes, and an enhanced understanding of the business of media-product start-ups.
  2. Community builders and mobilizers: the journalist must know how to engage the audience in conversation by knowing user engagement, communicating with your audience and how to use social media to expand and extend your audience.
  3. Business orientated: because the division between business models and journalism is fading since advertising revenue has been replaced by a patchwork of income sources.

Lack of Knowledge within Journalism Schools

There are many obstacles before journalism schools can teach those skills, primarily because most teachers don’t have the competencies to teach.

Actually, Hans Rosling makes the same argument in “Factfulness” – that the knowledge of academic staff is sorely out-dated and therefore our education system is teaching the past rather than the present.

Instead, Lynch says, the J-schools must find a model to teach those skills. It could be by investing in highly qualified professional instructors who would either physically or digitally deliver relevant short-courses or immersive workshops.

Also students should receive lectures and knowledge from other faculty departments e.g. in mathematics and political science. And finally, working with a digital first strategy is paramount in preparing students for real life.

You can read the full report on the journalist roles here.


Framing The Journalist Toolbox

Framing my research question!

FutureofjournalismAnyone out there who has ever done an academic degree will know how difficult it is to narrow one’s research question and do it well.

After reading literature and research articles for the past 30 days, I have embarked on my methodology and currently, I am trying to conceptualise my research for The Journalist’s Toolbox.

If you want a brief explanation on the project and why I started it, have a look this blog post.

Not being a trained academic this is difficult. The last time I was involved in research was when I took my Master’s Degree in Journalism at University of Queensland and did my thesis. It was over 10 years ago and I feel the rust, believe me.

Humble beginnings not all bad

On the other hand, being away from scholarly research gives me a couple of advantages as well. For instance, I am humbled and not at all confident in my own abilities, which will make me work harder (!) In addition, I perceive the obstacles to journalism and the future of journalism in a practical manner, not academic. This might prove to bring some new ideas and insights into this project.

It could also prove detrimental to the cause; not knowing enough or having the knowledge of what I don’t know could leave me with gaping holes in both my argumentation and methodology.

Visualisation helps to conceptualise

Sometimes, I have a better understanding of things when I can visualise what I am trying to do. This is a very first attempt to dissect the different topics I need to examine and explain before I can move forward and actually develop the categories for the future roles of journalists.

Want to have a look at journalism education in four different European countries? Read about the Newsreel New Skills research report here.

The drawing will help me a little, I hope. It shows that my attempt is to have a bigger overlap between the journalism education and the journalism practice. I would also like to see journalism education look to the future rather than be based in the past.

Take a chance

This will probably make many academics and journalism educators shake their head! Because it would mean taking chances with developing a new curricula and that would take the courage to incorporate disciplines from other professions such as IT, and business.

Have comments for me? Feel free to e-mail me here and tell me what you think.

The Journalist's Toolbox

Reinventing Journalism as an Entrepreneurial Enterprise

Entrepreneurial EnterpriseSinger, Jane B. (2018) Reinventing Journalism as an Entrepreneurial Enterprise, Remaking the News, edited by Boczkowski, Pablo J and Anderson C.Q.

Which direction should journalism studies take?

There are multiple options and Jane B. Singer makes a compelling case for choosing to educate future journalists to be entrepreneurs.

Most academic research on journalism has looked into the skillset and work practices of a traditional newsroom. But the majority of journalists today are no longer employed there and have left – most of them because of cutbacks. Instead, many of them become freelancers or small business owners.

One of the large changes within the role of a self employed journalist is that one has to set up a value proposition – and cross that border between business and journalism that has been upheld in the legacy media. The term defines radio, television, and especially newspapers that has no interaction with its users / audience.

The Death of Legacy Media

The legacy media rests on former economic and political environments that no longer exist. Millennial consumption of these types of media is minimal and likely to decline further.

Like any other crumbled monopoly, the news media today is facing the daunting task of reinventing itself now that information truly flows free and wild. For the past century, the media has been build on two revenue sources, audiences and advertisers. And now both of them are in decline, we need a new breed of journalists, Singer argues.

We need business savvy journalists because digital start-ups with free content with a diversified revenue stream from event hosting to crow funding and consultancy services have proven successful. In that mix is also native advertising and non-profit journalism. Singer concludes that the entrepreneurial journalist is much needed because:

“For the legacy journalists who leave a traditional newsroom to join or create their own news enterprise, perhaps the most jarring change the encounter is the dramatic narrowing of the distance between themselves and two key (and overlapping) constituencies: those who consume their product and those who finance it.” (page 204.)

The “division of church and state” within journalism – the separation of editorial and commercial activities – is no longer a given in this day and age. This prospect may be frightening to legacy news journalists, however it may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to making journalism valuable to its customers.

Which other types of journalist would be relevant to educate? Read the blog on the book Den Journalistiske Forbindelse and the engaging journalist here.

Want to explore the essays on the future of journalism? Find the book here.

Report review: Newsreel – New Skills For The Next Generation Of Journalists

Should journalism education embrace the current challenges and develop the journalists’ skills on ethics, data, business models?

New skilssOf course, it should. However, how quickly that should happen and to what extend are grounds for debate. The report Newsreel; New Skills for the Next Generation of Journalists from Erasmus+ analyses the current and future of journalism education where a group of researchers analyse and compares Hungary, Romania, Portugal and Germany.

The researchers have chosen four key foci; Data Journalism, Collaboration, Business Models, and Journalism Ethics. These categories are interesting and I have arranged a meeting with some of the authors here in Lisbon next week and talk on the research. Well, back to the report.

Old Skills Are Still There

In order to establish how the journalism educations have implemented and are thinking about the future, the different journalism degrees are analysed. On top of that the journalism educators are interviewed as well as industry leaders on the skills needed in the future.

Pretty much everyone agree that the old school skills such as research and fact finding, critical thinking and writing are at the core of journalism and should be the main focus of any journalism study. On how to proceed with teaching new trends and skills such as coding and creating business models, there is much scepticism:

”One common theme presented by journalism educators was that there is no need to follow every trend, that journalism education should not try to include and embrace every new development in the industry, but teach core competences and only those trends that are significant.” (page 90)

and later on page 92:

“Other obstacles facing innovators in journalism and journalism education is the resistance to innovation by colleagues or supervisors who do not see the need for any transformation.”

Data Journalism, yes Please

All four countries acknowledge the importance of data analysis, however implementing it into the curricula is a different matter. Most analysed study programmes teach data journalism in one way or another, but not all offer data journalism as a specific course and instead integrate it into other courses.

In Germany, this topic is a must in all six universities, however the courses and the amount of acquired knowledge vary greatly. The consensus is that some degree of data analysis is important for journalists, however there is difficulty in finding affordable teachers on the topic.

New Business Models not so Much

However, when it comes to teaching business models and strategies for projects, the courses are few and far in between. Most scholars and especially journalists agree that there is a need but making it a part of the curricula is not so easy.

Some of the explanation is due to a lack of professors with practical knowledge, others like the Michael Brüggemann from University of Hamburg believes that this issue is best handled by media managers and not journalists. Universities in Portugal and Romania beg to differ and offer specific courses on business model and financing. One university has a personal branding course for future freelance journalists, which is the Budapest Metropolitan.

New Ethical Challenges Ahead

All journalism educations teach ethics, although it is somehow neglected in Hungary while ethics plays a minor role in Portugal and Romania. And Hungary stands out as the country lacking behind on all four topics. The Romanian journalism professor Gabriel Hasmațuchi from the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu says:

“Students told us that when they were hired, people in the media advised them to forget all the rubbish that they learned in journalism school, to forget ethics.”

Collaborative journalism

The fourth – and probably newest topic – is collaborative journalism as in large projects often internationally scoped such as Panama Papers or the Snowden leaks. None of the universities have chosen to develop courses in this but all teaches some kind of teamwork, which would be the closest one available.

In conclusion, the report on the four countries shares much information and many interesting and noteworthy comments from journalism educators and the media industry. The authors also comment that:

“(..) from the interviews we can see that what journalists think about their curricula is different from what scholars think about it. In general, the journalists interviewed thought that the Bachelor’s programmes should involve more practice and have more teachers that work as journalists.”

The conflict between academics and journalists always loom in the background. The report documents that the journalism education of the four countries is old fashioned and lacking behind the latest trends and knowledge.

The explanation is – as always – the availability of time, money and teachers. However sound that explanation is, the resistance towards integrating new and precious knowledge into the curricula is disheartening when considering the current climate of journalism today.

Read a resume here and find the link for the entire report here.


Are more Danish Journalists Going Freelance?

Members of Danish Journalist Union
The developement of members if the Danish Journalist Union from 1990 – 2018 (the numbers for 2018 are only for the 1st. quarter).

Are we getting fewer or more freelance journalists in Denmark?

That is a good questions when trying to analyse whether journalism as a profession is endangered or not. In the Scandinavian countries we have a high degree of union membership, and therefore I asked Dansk Journalistforbund – Medier og Kommunikation for help with membership data.

Steen Rønnengart provided the data above regarding the number of members of the two groups within the union; communicators and freelancers. We were both interested in analysing whether there are fewer working as paid journalists for traditional media during the past app. 30 years.

As the graph above shows there are many more members of the Danish Journalist Union. And the numbers of communicators and freelance journalists seem to be growing accordingly. However, when we do a percentage calculation, a different picture emerges:

Freelance journalists
The percentage of freelancers is suprisingly stabile, however the number of communicators have tripled in percentage points the last 28 years.

I had expected the percentage of freelancers to climb just as the percentage of communicators has. However, that is not the case. So maybe my initial theory of an increasing freelance market is wrong. Denmark and the Nordic countries could be different from the rest of Europe, since we have a strong tradition for both union membership and for being an employee.

Many benefits of the Danish welfare society such as paid sick leave and paid maternity leave have not been available to freelancers. Also, the Danish rules for VAT regarding journalism are complicated and until recently you can only get unemployment benefits if you work by an hourly rate and not if you have a company. These rules have been met with great critique because – as many argue – this dampens the willingness to work freelance.

Next week, I will analyse the differences further and use the data from the large editor survey from MyNewsDesk from 2016.



Reading list for the project The Journalist’s Toolbox

This reading list for the project The Journalist’s Toolbox is a work in progress. As in any other large thesis or ph.d., I am attempting to do a theoretical framework before I start with data gathering, subsequent analysis and qualitative interviews.

I have made this list to inspire others on what to read and also to be able to document my progress along the way. Please write me an e-mail if you have good ideas on what I should read when it comes to journalism education and future journalism competences.

Boczkowski, Pablo J. and Anderson, C. W. – editors (2017):  Remaking the News. Essays on the Future of Journalism Scholarship in the Digital Age. MIT Press.

Collignon, Pierre (2018): Tilbage til virkeligheden – Kampen mod fake news, løgne og manipulationer. Gyldendal, 1. E-book edition. Read here: Back to Reality.

Cokley, John (2015): Shopping News: Agenda Finding, What the Audience Does Before the News. Australian Scholarly Publishing.

Kammer, Aske (2018): Digital journalistik. Samfundslitteratur, 1. udgave E-bog.

Kleis Nielsen, Rasmus – editor (2015): Local Journalism: The Decline of Newspapers and the Rise of Digital Media. I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd.

Rosling, Hans, Rosling Rönnlund, Anna and Rosling, Ola (2018): Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. Sceptre. Read here: Factfulness.

Singer, Jane B. (2018) Reinventing Journalism as an Entrepreneurial Enterprise, Remaking the News, edited by Boczkowski, Pablo J and Anderson C.Q. Read here: Reinventing Journalism as an Entrepreneurial Enterprise.

Schultz-Jørgensen, Søren and Westergård, Per (2018): Den journalistiske forbindelse. Sådan genopfinder nyhedsmediet sin relation til borgerne – og sin relevans for demokratiet. Gyldendal Business, 1. E-book edition. Read here: The Journalistic Connection.

The Journalistic Connection

the journalistic ConnectionSchultz-Jørgensen, Søren and Westergård, Per (2018): Den journalistiske forbindelse. Sådan genopfinder nyhedsmediet sin relation til borgerne – og sin relevans for demokratiet. Gyldendal Business, 1. E-book edition.

What does the future look like – and behold – for the news media industry? The authors spent a year talking to innovative news media in order to establish a new type of journalist that can save the news media in the long term.

The book is called “The Journalistic Connection” and it exames how to reinstate journalism as a valuable tool for the democracy and the general public.

A new role for the journalist

They name this new type of journalist “the engaging journalist” and he/she are characterized by engaging citizens by using many well known tools such as campaign journalism, constructive journalism, and citizen journalism.

Through interviews and visits to more than 80 different media outlets, primarily in US and in Europe, they have discovered what they call a way to save news journalism from itself.

The authors conclude that there is a need for listening and including the users when innovating new types of media and also, that journalists need to be collecting data in order to improve their reporting.

Like Pierre Collignon in his book “Tilbage til virkeligheden”, Westergård and Schultz-Jørgensen believe that the omnibus newspaper is dead and so is the idea of the objective journalist. In order to avoid being irrelevant and snobbish, the journalists today must include the citizens both in the idea faze, the fact finding stages, sometimes in reporting and also after the actual articles in commentaries or further development.

Journalism as a business

“The Journalistic Connection” also considers what competences in the journalistic toolbox we are in need of, mainly through describing experiments at established news media such as a social media projects with Snapchat and a large innovation process with design thinking as a method.

In addition, the authors look at the need for a three-legged approach to income for media outlets that besides the actual product include events and loyalty programmes.

A few times, the book discusses the harsh working environments for journalists, the pressure to produce three times as many news stories per day and the lack of in-depth-reporting as a result.

However, the authors have mainly focused on news journalism and newsroom innovation, not including the other types of media such as B2B media and niche media, challenges within small language areas and a growing public service sector.

A new type of journalist

The role of the journalist today has expanded greatly, and on the list of tasks of the modern journalist are titles such as “community organizer, teacher (…) mediator and intermediary”. One could add graphic designer, salesman, data-analyser, UX-designer, crowd funder, and much more.

When it comes to educating this new type of journalist – the engaging journalist – the authors mention fellowship at educational institutions such as Harvard University and the new Danish Institute for Constructive Journalism. But how are today’s large group of journalists supposed to take the leap? This will be especially difficult because of the conservatism within the industry:

“The many surveys of the journalists own view on their trade and the future show that there is a lack of engagement and involvement. And do you ask the industry heads, their greatest concern is that they have a hard time getting their employees to “share and take in new ideas, techniques and strategies” according to a survey from the media leaders in a report from the organisation WAN-IFRA from 2017”. (page 240)


* note: all translations are my own.