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In journalism, true digital expertise takes much more than multimedia skills

by: Michele McLellan |

Jay Rosen, NYU journalism professor and news media analyst, blogs this week about an emerging skill set that will make journalists highly marketable to employers.

Rosen says people who are looking to hire journalists often cite some version of this:  “I need people who can look at the news and information situation they are handed, look at what we know about our users and how they behave, look at what we say and believe about our brand, look at all the digital tools we have now… and just make good decisions” instead of reverting to familiar forms.

Knight Digital Media sought to instill these skills in 13 news organizations that are now part of the Journal Media Group (formerly E.W. Scripps newspapers) during a multi-year partnership, the Four Platform Newsroom initiative. The initiative is transforming newsrooms from highly print focused to multiplatform newsrooms that created content and engagement on the web, phones and tablets and then used that content to produce a newspaper. (Our report on that effort so far.)

A lot of our work focused on raising newsroom expertise in these areas:

  • Platforms and story forms. The journalist must know tools and forms are available and what works best in what situation. This requires breaking away from a print-first 15’’ story mindset. Training helped the journalists raise their digital literacy before they became immersed in learning and apllying new digital skills.
  • News consumers. The journalist must know how different news consumers access news. That means learning to conduct, analyze and act on consumer research. The journalist also must understand the consumer’s information needs – which may not conform to traditional ways of framing important topic coverage but calls for strong journalism nonetheless. (More on this aspect, which was pivotal to culture change and digital adoption by journalists.)
  • Company strategy. The journalist has to understand the company’s strategy (and the company has to have one) for capturing digital audience engagement. The Four Platform initiative emphasized data, real-time news, watchdog and grassroots journalism. KDMC added the concept of franchise topics – ones in which digital news consumers were highly interested and dissatisfied with what was already available.

A fourth important skill is the ability to analyze and act on digital metrics. While these metrics are no substitute for direct research with news consumers, they are vital to strategic efforts to put resources where they have the most impact. For the new Journal Media Group, raising metrics expertise is a challenge for the coming year.

This takes nothing away from the importance of multimedia skills. But training in skills alone may not produce results that are worth the effort.

In his post, Rosen asks what the new skill set should be called. We have called it "digital literacy," for lack of a better term. I am not sure that really captures the sweep and depth of what is now required to be a successful journalist on digital platforms. Whatever we call the skill set, it ought to be a central focus for journalism organizations and educators as well as journalists who want to stay in the business.

Related:

Leadership and culture: Linchpins of digital transformation in the newsroom

Personas: Connecting with digital news consumers

Owning the local news franchise

Newsrooms struggle with priorities on path to "digital leads" footing 

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Michele McLellan

Michele McLellan is a writer, editor and consultant who works on projects that help strengthen the emerging local news ecosystem,
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