Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Employers seek mix of traditional, modern skills

Arizona State professor Serena Carpenter has completed a really interesting study that highlights the importance of students learning both traditional journalistic skills and modern technological ones. (Full disclosure: Serena is a friend and collaborator; she contributed a chapter to my recently published volume Public Journalism 2.0 And, as a further aside, as a researcher, I especially admire the creative approach she took to the methodology -- a content analysis of postings on the Web site Journalism Jobs.)

The study, published in Journalism and Mass Communication Educator and summarized on AEJMC's "Hot Topics" site, says that on the traditional-skills side, solid writing, working under deadline, editing, teamwork and communication skills, and familiarity with Associated Press Style all still matter both for traditional media organizations and non-traditional ones. But also important to both types of organizations are skills such as content posting and management, image editing, blogging, video editing, and social media knowledge. (Interestingly, though, the non-traditional news organizations rate the tech skills as less important than the non-tech ones). But when it comes to these non-traditional news outlets, something that Serena calls "adaptive expertise" -- things such as creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving -- takes on added importance.

In my view, these findings are interesting and important ones as we try to figure out how we should be teaching today's college students to be tomorrow's journalists. The challenge this presents, naturally, is how to fit all of this instruction into our courses.

(As I wrote that I couldn't help but recall the phrase used by my first real journalism "boss," the crusty managing editor of the Buffalo News during an internship I had there more than 30 years ago, who described the task of an editor trying to fit all the news into the newspaper as "fitting 10 pounds of s#%t into a 5-pound bag." But I digress.)

This old-vs.-new milieu was a topic of some discussion at some sessions I attended at the AEJMC convention in Boston last summer, also. To what degree should we as educators be providing what amounts to trade-school training in software packages and other technical skills? How much of a distraction can that become to our traditional role teaching reporting, writing and editing, not to mention topics such as accuracy and verification, ethics, law, etc.?

In programs such as ours, with one main journalism course, what can we drop out of the current curriculum to make sure all of the new aspects are covered? When the industry is saying "teach all of the traditional skills and values" and also "make sure your graduates are technically skilled and capable" at the same time, it's hard to determine the answer to that question. At what point does the emphasis on the new attenuate the old, diminishing it to the point of damage? Or, to put it another way, how do we fit 10 pounds of ... stuff ... into a 5-pound bag?

No comments: