A New Profession of Trail Blazers Who Find Delight

While working today on a chapter for a new edition of Reaching Audiences, I was re-reading the 1945 Atlantic Monthly article in which Vannevar Bush lays out his concept of the hypermedia world we’re now building. In it, he not only envisions a new method of storing and sorting information but a new industry of people who do so.

“There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.”

Perhaps I have a perverted perspective, but MAN does that sound like a sexxxy job description — pioneering, democratic, joyful. If these qualities stir your heart, then you’re a journalist in any medium.

Newsroom Skills: The Bosses Speak Out

(After years of watching CNN with envy, I finally get to use the verbose phrase “speak out” in a headline.)

Writing and overall computer skills are the most essential skills for newsroom reporters, according to a survey of 259 top editors at daily newspapers in the United States. The survey, which was posted this morning, ranks multimedia skills and data analysis skills at the bottom of the list of five choices that the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism gave editors in the survey that was conducted earlier this year.

The full table …

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Reaction: Survey of Online Journalists

The survey of journalists working online at North Carolina newspapers has begun to receive some insightful feedback from others, both on this site and around the Web. It’s a good time to summarize some of the responses here. I’m looking forward to hearing from more people, especially if you have a question that the data I’ve collected might help answer. For me, two big questions remain:

  • Can we come up with a somewhat standardized set of job titles and descriptions for online newsrooms circa 2008?
  • Is there a way to look at newsrooms skills and organization structures to determine “the best” way to structure an online news operation?

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Your Assignment for Today Is …

I’m speaking today at two seminars at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication: the Chuck Stone Program for Diversity in Education and Media and the Institute for Midcareer Copy Editors. For a white guy who can’t spell, this is an intimidating day.

Thinking about what to say to these groups, I began to think about how important it is for each journalist who lives in a world of accuracy and accountability to personally venture in to the uncertain waters of online social networks and user-generated content. Among other things, it is a journalist’s job to give voice to the voiceless and to hold powerful people accountable. Wikipedia and Facebook are two places where the voiceless are stretching their vocal chords and where accountability is taking on new methods. If a journalist is to perform his or her job above a minimum standard of competence, it’s important to dive in to these worlds and understand how they work.

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Journalism Programming: Supply and Demand

One of the reasons I’m so struck that online journalists in North Carolina have such an emphasis on traditional skills and duties is that it starkly contrasts with the skills I hear editors at top national sites tell me that they are looking for in recent j-school grads. The Knight Foundation believes that programmers are in such high demand in newsrooms today that they gave Northwestern $638,000 to fund nine full-ride scholarships for programmers who want to get a master’s degree in journalism at Medill.

One of the scholarship recipients, Brian Boyer, writes about his career prospects over at the MediaShift blog.

Listed below are the job titles he thinks are available to him. He’s most interested in becoming a “applications developer” or a “hacker journalist.” Are any of these jobs available in North Carolina?

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Traditional Concepts Most Important to Online Journalists

Once again in my survey of online journalists at North Carolina newspapers, we see a return to tradition. They say that news judgment and the ability to work under time pressure are the concepts that are most important to their jobs, while community management is far and away the least important of the 10 choices I gave them.

Also bringing up the rear of concepts that online journalists said were important to them: the ability to learn new technologies and awareness of new technologies.

And, interesting to note for those of us who teach students that it is more important to get it right than to get it first, the online journalists in my survey said that ability to work under time pressures was more important than attention to detail. As a group, they gave deadlines a higher average importance than details. As individuals, 63 percent of the respondents ranked time pressure more important than accuracy.

Oy vey.

At this point in my analysis, I have to conclude that one of two things is happening here:

  1. EITHER There is wide disparity between the skills, duties and concepts that I personally think should be emphasized in online newsrooms and in the skills, duties and concepts that are perceived as the most prominent and/or important in actual online newsrooms at North Carolina newspapers.
  2. OR This survey is totally FUBAR. Perhaps I asked the wrong questions of the wrong people.

To help me sort this out, I’m going to turn to a panel of experts — both in survey methodology and in online newsroom leadership. And, of course, your comments below are always helpful.

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Journalism Education: Training the Trainers

Earlier today I wrote about the duties of online journalists. One of the underlying purposes of my survey is to find out how journalism schools can better prepare students for the near future, and there were two popular duties that stood out as “soft skills” that are not emphasized in classrooms — teaching and training other people in the newsroom, and “project management.”

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Tampa Tribune Reorganization

Update: Shannan Bowen does a nice job summarizing the recent online conversation about this topic. The highlight? It is dominated by young journalists determined to do good work.

I would like to thank the Tampa Tribune for helping demonstrate the importance of knowing how newsrooms are organized — what skills, duties and concepts are held at different staff positions, and how those positions relate to each other.

The Tribune’s reorganization memo was posted to Romenesko yesterday. Thanks to Paul Jones for the tip.

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Duties of the Online Journalist: ‘Writers’ and ‘Trainers’

As a group, online journalists in North Carolina spend more time writing original stories for the Web than doing anything else. But that’s because a few journalists spend most of their time on that one duty, while most online journalists spend their time on an average of nine different duties.

Many of them are spending time on duties that don’t have an immediate, direct effect on their Web site’s content. The task of training and teaching their colleagues is the duty that an online journalist is most likely to have performed at least once during the last three months.

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Skills of Online Journalists Skew Traditional

In my survey of online journalists at North Carolina newspapers, I asked respondents to describe their proficiency in each of 17 different skills. What I found was that although online journalists are relatively young, their strength as a group remains in traditional skills of news judgment, grammar and AP style.

Here’s a table of the results.

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