Help Wanted – Journalism Skills Needed in US Media

Which journalism skills must we teach in order to get our students a job?

journalism skillsThat is the question Debora Halpern Wenger, Lynn C. Owens and Jason Cain asks in the study “Help Wanted: Realigning Journalism Education to Meet the Needs of Top U.S. News Companies” from 2018.

In a time during the deconstruction of journalism, how do we determine which journalistic skills to teach and which to cast aside?

Universities and journalism schools have a hard time keeping up with the demand for rethinking journalism and adding new tech skills to the curricula, previous studies show.

Help Wanted

And what are the exact journalism skills we need to teach? One way of determining this is by examining the needs of the employers expressed through job postings.

For many years, Deborah Wenger has examined the American journalism job market by comparing 1,100 journalism job openings from 2015 with the 700 five years previously. All posts were from either the top 10 newspaper or top 10 broadcast journalism companies in the US. The research team examined the skills mentioned and listed them:

Top 20 journalism skills

Unsurprisingly, the need for different skills are due to a change in audience behaviour, so multiplatform skills and social media proficiency is high on the list of demands. The old way of telling the audience what news is has been replaced by a circle of interaction where the audience now train the journalists via clicks.

What Do Employers Really Want?

For the experienced journalists in broadcast and print media the skills most valued according to the posting were Previous experience, Working under tight deadlines, Writing, Web/Multimedia and Being a Team Player.

Most of all, the employers want more! The demands for skills have increased from the first analysis in 2010 to the one in 2015:

“ more than a third of positions (33%) required web/multimedia skills—now it is nearly two thirds of all jobs (62%). Working under pressure and tight deadlines increased from 28% to 56%, and working as a team player jumped from 27% to 52% in those 5 years. Social media grew from references in 2% of job postings in 2010 to 47% of all job postings”.

What is even more interesting is, that the number of journalism skills wanted is growing overall. The media simply wants candidates with both the old journalistic values and skills and a technical toolbox to navigate in this new and fast moving news cycle. The 2015 job postings were more detailed and close to every tenth of them listed 20 skills or more.

I’ll Tell You Want I Want

Here are some snippets from different entry-level job ads in 2015:

“You should be a self-starter comfortable working in multiple types of media: reporting and writing stories; shooting photos and videos with an iPhone; and immersed in the networks of social media to help spread the word about your great work.”

 “You should be nimble and able to tailor your approach to stories to satisfy audiences viewing your work in print or on a desktop browser, mobile device or tablet.”

“Writes platform-appropriate headlines and social-media posts that are engaging, enticing, tone-appropriate and maximizes SEO.”

“Use provided online analytics tools to track page views, comments and social media engagement—and uses that information to make content more or less prominent.”

In comparison to a large European report on skills – Newsreel – New Skills For The Next Generation Of Journalists – there is surprisingly little emphasis on ethics or data analysis.

What’s Next?

The good news is that there are still jobs out there for journalists to get. The bad news is that journalists are expected to master more tasks and more complicated tasks, too. It need not be the end of journalism per se but it may be the end of old-fashioned journalism, as we know it.

Journalism itself is being redefined and deconstructed as we speak and on a positive note we are engaging more with the audience through social media. On the other hand, the ever-growing number of skills will leave many young journalists exasperated and many old journalists out of a job.

No one type of education is able to teach a multitude of journalism skills.  One way forward could be to make specialised education and this I will examine further along in the project.

Find the article in the journal Journalism & Mass Communication Educator journal here.

Back to Reality – the Fight Against Fake News, Lies, and Manipulations

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

The former Danish editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Pierre Collignon, has examined the threat of fake news to the news media. In the first part of the book “Back to Reality”, Collignon describes the late arrival and subsequent rise of the “omnibus” newspaper in Denmark in the 19th century.

During that period, the party press changed their business model to accommodate the need for more factual news.

In the current media landscapes, Collignon describes how the leftwing linguist Chomsky critics the media for being a part of the elite and therefore lacking any objectivity. This is supported by a current poll in the US that shows that 67% per cent and 36 per cent of the Democrats see the media as “out of touch” with the voters.

Collapse ahead?

The distrust that also shows in European populations can ultimately, Collignon claims, lead to a collapse of public discourse if the press is no longer able – or trusted to – be the platform of discussion in democratic countries.

The gap between the average newsreader and the journalist is media made, Collignon states in the book’s second part. This is caused by the inside language that the journalists uses, which makes the news only interesting to political insiders and the elite.

This can ultimately repulse a part of the population. Therefore, it is paramount for European media with a high journalistic standard to uphold their reach towards the general public.

Courses to improve journalism

In the third part of the book, Collignon advocates for a more alert and better-educated media industry. He mentions the BBC’s internal courses in science reporting as an example of increasing the journalistic standard. He urges newsrooms to ensure enough competences and knowledge to be a better sparring partner to scientists and researchers:

“There is a great need for journalism schools and news rooms to strengthen journalism competence, even the old fashioned factual kind. Rhetoric and discourse analysis is not enough. Today’s journalists must know a lot on political history, economics, international relations and statistics. Just to mention a few of the news topics where I lack a higher level of knowledge today.” (Page 284)


* note: all translations are my own.