Are data journalism and online engagement coming of age?

It’s more complicated than a one-word answer, of course, but data and online community work (developing communities and engaging users) seem to be moving from niche ‘extras’ to core essentials in much of journalism.

The word ‘data’ has been creeping into advertisements for reporters. “Experience of data journalism” in a vacancy on Health Service Journal and Nursing Times, for example. A reporting role at Times Higher Education asked for “skills to handle large data sets to identify trends and spot stories, and the ability to use the data to create news graphics”.

Data journalism and social media are not only for specialists

My point is that these are not specialist “data journalist” roles: breaking news stories lies at the core of both jobs. My colleague Paul Bradshaw offers two reasons why every journalist should know about web-scraping, a key part of data journalism.

Similarly, using social media in reporting — to find stories and sources, for example — is now an accepted part of the skill-set for most journalists, I hope. At least for those now entering journalism.

It’s no surprise that The Huffington Post UK, online-only of course, expects that applicants “will already be utilising and fully understand the power of social media to promote content” for a blogs assistant editor role. But — as with data — social media and engaging users online seem increasingly to be an explicit element.

Channel 4 News advertised for a political correspondent who would “use social media to maximise the impact of your stories and engage with our audience”, for example. A junior writer on The Sun’s Fabulous Magazine online will be “helping to manage our strong community of Facebook and Twitter followers”. A reporter on Farmers Weekly will be “using social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and forums, to engage with readers”.

Again, these are not specialist social media or community roles – but jobs that require skills and experience in these areas.

Specialist jobs growing alongside ‘integrated’ roles

Fortunately for those coming into journalism, specialised roles appear to be thriving alongside those in which online community, social media (and/or data journalism) are ‘integrated’ into reporting or other roles. Engaging communities and building networks lie at the heart of a new Thomson Reuters project — with *nine* new jobs — for example. Metro has been recruiting for a social media executive as well as a head of insight and social.

This picture of specialised plus ‘integrated’ roles is reinforced by two other sources. First, discussions at the news:rewired event last month, where data journalism and online communities were key themes. Many people were there to learn how to do things better, and/or to benchmark their (or their publication’s) own activities.

Jobs in interactive journalism and online

Second, it’s an impression consistent with the jobs gained by students from the first year of our MA Interactive Journalism (at City University London). One is working as a data journalist at The Guardian, for example – while two others there are in content coordinator roles in which community and social media are part of a broader brief that includes writing, editing and commissioning. Others again have gone on to more specialised web analytics and social media work – as well as more ‘traditional’ journalism jobs, reporting on a regional paper and sub-editing for a national newspaper.

PS: Anyone unconvinced by the importance of mastering online/digital skills should look at some current job advertisements. A business reporter at The Telegraph will be managing the flow and placement of web content. An assistant features editor at The Sun will be “keen to adapt to digital platforms”. “An interest in digital publishing/social media would be an advantage” for a senior editor at The Economist group. And so on. [NB The job ads on Gorkana will to be taken down at some point.]

It is also worth noting that data, multimedia and technology topped the list of skills in a survey about journalism training, undertaken by the Poynter Institute.

PPS: I have resisted expanding this post to take in another key area, mobile platforms (also a focus at news:rewired), where news organisations are expanding their activities. Nor have I mentioned the demand beyond journalism for people with a good grasp of data, social media engagement and online/digital skills more generally…

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Glasgow Uni launches SoTL website

Is this a first for a UK university? Glasgow has launched a website dedicated to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), punningly called BeSoTLed — and it’s more than just a page with links to some of the (much more plentiful) sites in North America.

This initiative has grown out of a learning community of teaching staff at Glasgow University, particularly Lorna Morrow (psychology), Rob McKerlie (dentistry) and Jane MacKenzie (Learning and Teaching Centre). Congrats to them. These three seem to have an open and encouraging way of describing their involvement with SoTL — for example, I like the way they

do not see themselves as SoTL experts but as SoTL enthusiasts.

Glasgow University seems to have been encouraging SoTL more actively in recent years. It became the only European member of the Building SoTL Communities project, supported by the Carnegie Academy. The six others are all in the USA or Canada. Glasgow also set up a SoTL journal a few years ago — the Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

The BeSoTLed website points to other activities, too — indeed, there’s an accompanying Moodle site, which sadly is accessible only to Glasgow staff.

Good stuff. Which also it makes me wonder why the HEA hasn’t created something like this, as far as I’m aware, as a central resource to encourage SoTL in UK higher education. Of course the HEA has supported initiatives such as this one at City, where we do our bit for SoTL, too, with an international conference almost annually, and schemes for SoTL research and recognition. Among other things.