New journalists lacking key skills, report finds

More than 70 per cent of media employers believe there is a gap between the skills found in new-entrant journalists and those needed to run their news organisation.

The NCTJ, BJTC and PTC investigated the issues arising from the need for new journalists to be equipped with multimedia skills as a result of convergence, and looked at whether they are being prepared for a multi-platform career during their education and training.

More than 200 media organisations and 50 training organisations were surveyed. The research identified a skills gap in the ability of new entrants to find and write stories, with 64 per cent of those asked highlighting it as a problem area. Use of language came in second as a trouble area with 51 per cent.

The report found that ‘old-fashioned’ skills such as gathering facts and a tight writing style were still paramount, and interviewees said that the basic journalism skills must not be lost as new skills such as video recording are taught.

Donald Martin, editor of the Evening Times in Glasgow and chairman of the NCTJ’s journalism qualifications Board, presented a summary of the key findings at the Society of Editors conference in Bristol today.

Martin said: ‘The research findings are bound to spark an important debate on how new entrants should be trained to cope with the demands of convergence. Our mission is quality training to high relevant standards but we must be realistic and prioritise what can be achieved and get the right balance of traditional and new skills.”

Shorthand was seen by most as vital or important, and although more so for newspaper employers it still got support from broadcast and magazine sectors with many interviewees still saw 100wpm as the ‘gold standard’.

One senior newspaper executive commented: ‘A reporter without shorthand is like a runner taking part in a marathon with one foot in a cardboard box.’

The full report will be published in December and will be discussed further at the Journalism Skills Conference in Salford next month.

Cardiff University head of journalism Richard Tait said it was important that courses kept up with the skills required in the industry.

“The providers have got to keep in step with the way the industry is changing,” he said.

“We are continuing to teach people the core skills but all the students learn to shoot and edit, do podcasts, work in multimedia, use mobile phones as mobile outside broadcast units.”

Sky News journalist Ruth Barnett, who studied newspaper journalism at City University, added: “There was a lot of pessimism [on the course]. We knew we were going into a dying industry.

“We had a lot of guest speakers who said: I’ve had a wonderful career but you probably won’t be as lucky.”

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