The skills and knowledge needed to be a journalist in the United States keep growing as shrinking newsrooms try to do more with less. A new study of job ads suggests media outlets now want journalists to be more innovative, demonstrating expertise in areas such as web development, audience analytics and Python, the computer programming language.
Outlets also are increasingly seeking reporters and other newsroom employees with specific personality traits — being “outgoing” or “easygoing,” for example, the study finds.
Two researchers from the University of Missouri, Lei Guo and Yong Volz, studied job ads to find out what today’s news organizations want journalists to know and be able to do. They looked through job announcements posted on Indeed.com between July 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017 seeking journalists, reporters, correspondents, writers, editors, producers and photographers. They analyzed 669 announcements, posted by an assortment of organizations, the vast majority of which were print, broadcast and online-only news outlets.
About 44 percent of ads were for reporters specifically. More than half of all vacancies were in broadcasting.
Volz, an associate professor who chairs the journalism studies department at the University of Missouri, told Journalist’s Resource that she was pleasantly surprised to find that writing ability, news judgment and multimedia skills remain core skills in demand within the field. They were the top three most desired qualities noted in the job ads.
Most ads, however, did not express a preference for other skills long considered important to newsrooms. While about 86 percent mentioned writing expertise, less than 45 percent mentioned reporting expertise. About 28 percent mentioned interviewing skills. Fewer than 15 percent emphasized subject knowledge expertise and just over 10 percent mentioned multilingual proficiency.
Meanwhile, many employers sought journalists with marketing skills — a skill set rarely mentioned in previous research on journalists’ professional qualifications, according to the study, titled “(Re)defining Journalistic Expertise in the Digital Transformation: A Content Analysis of Job Announcements” and published online in March 2019 in Journalism Practice.
About 45 percent of announcements mentioned marketing expertise in areas such as audience engagement, market development and branding.
“My own personal opinion is that I’m kind of concerned about it,” Volz said during a phone interview, adding that the blurring of the boundaries separating newsrooms and marketing departments could present an ethical dilemma for journalists.
Only about a quarter of job announcements mentioned professional ethics, though. And online-only news outlets were less likely to emphasize journalism ethics than print and broadcast media organizations.
“In this era with increasing public distrust of the media, I think ethics is more crucial than ever for the media,” Volz said. “Ethics requirements should be highlighted even more.”
A surprising finding: Today’s newsrooms are more likely to explicitly state that they want to hire people with certain personality traits. Volz said she and Guo plan to investigate this further in a future study.
“We see a lot of descriptions in these job announcements about being enterprising, being energetic, being aggressive, being collaborative, being social,” she explained. “I thought that’s very interesting how personality has become part of the preference in the job announcements.”
Volz noted that the study’s findings can help journalism educators better prepare journalism students to enter the field. Here are some of the other things she and her co-author learned:
- Print media were more likely to seek job candidates with data and web development skills compared to broadcast and online-only outlets. “This may be partly due to the sharply dropping circulation of newspapers and magazines … which has pushed them to embrace big data and other strategies to grow digital subscriptions,” Guo and Volz write.
- The demand for multimedia skills was highest among broadcast media. About 93 percent of job announcements from broadcast media expressed a preference for multimedia expertise compared to about 79 percent of ads from print media and about 69 percent of ads from online-only media.
- Ads for mid-level news staff were more likely to mention skills in web development, design, content strategy and big data than ads for front-line reporters and newsroom administrators. For instance, about 26 percent of ads for mid-level staff cite a preference for applicants with design expertise compared to about 15 percent of ads for front-line reporters and 20 percent of ads for administrators.
- While most job ads were from media outlets, a small proportion were from public relations companies and government agencies. Almost 12 percent were from other types of businesses. Volz said this demonstrates that people define ‘journalist’ in a broader and looser sense now.
- Guo and Volz write that students “who aspire to work for print media will be better equipped if they are able to enhance their ‘skill variety’ by possessing such innovative, digital skills as being able to use software packages ranging from Information Management System and Adobe Visual Design to programming languages such as R and Python.”
- The authors stress the importance of developing soft skills. “Our findings suggest, instead of clinging to ‘hard skills,’ journalism educators might benefit from incorporating ‘soft skills,’ such as adaptability, interpersonal communication and leadership skills, to their routine teaching.”
Looking for more research on journalism jobs? Check out our write-ups on gender in journalism, how journalism branding affects reporters’ personal identities and online harassment among female journalists. We’ve also written about what chasing clicks means for local news.