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…

Revamped US Journalism Courses Attract Students

From the Chronicle of HE (Katherine Mangan):
“Many universities report that journalism enrollments are up this year. Over the past few weeks, a lot of these budding journalists have been blogging, broadcasting, and tweeting their way through introductory courses that have been revamped to embrace the digital age.

Applications to Columbia University’s master-of-science program in journalism rose 44 percent, to 1,181, for the class entering this fall, and an investigative-journalism specialty drew more than twice as many applications this year than last year, up from 54 in 2008 to 121 this year.

Elsewhere, applications to master’s programs were up 30 percent at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 25 percent at the University of Maryland at College Park, and 24 percent at Stanford University.”

Read more here [link]

Times Higher Education – Students armed with sub-editing skills are given tools for life

Excellent subs are not disposable relics of a bygone era. They are the keyhole surgeons of journalism; fast, precise and adept at ensuring that prevention averts the need for expensive or embarrassing cures. At best they write attention-grabbing headlines and turn convoluted codswallop into plain, comprehensible English.
[…]
Crucially, subbing skills should be praised and taught at each and every university that makes any claim to educate journalists.

Read more here [link]

Getting colleagues on board… TNJN – ICONN conference yields many ideas, possibilities

From a gathering of US journalism teachers/academics:
"University of Georgia professor Mark Johnson said, "One of the biggest challenges I've had…is getting my colleagues on board."

The common sentiment among the journalism department is "we really need to do something with online – but not in my class," Johnson said."

Read more here [link]

Training the new journalist « Advancing the Story

Deb Halpern Wenger on an NPR interview with the Dean of Berkeley's J School, Neil Henry:

"The most controversial element of the interview involves Henry’s assertion that more journalists will need to be entrepreneurs.  He suggests they won’t work for traditional media companies, rather they will be in business for themselves.  Unfortunately, when Cohen tried to press him on whether this would result in “journalism for hire,”  Henry really avoided answering the question. 

However, he did say UC Berkeley’s j-school is working with the business school to develop courses that might help journalists make money outside the corporate journalism structure."

Read more here [link]

Swimming Lessons for Journalists | PBS

Widen your view of jobs in journalism, urges Amy Gahran:

"In my opinion, journalists need to start leaping en masse from the sinking ship of the newsroom and start working for search engines, nonprofits, think tanks, collaboratives, and other kinds of businesses and organizations. In fact, it might even be a good idea to trade in the label "journalist" for the more inclusive "person with journalism skills" […] That kind of humility offers considerable flexibility and room to grow.

Also, today's journalists can — and probably should — consciously shift away from jobs that revolve around content creation (producing packaged "stories") and toward providing layers of journalistic insight and context on top of content created by others (including public information). Finding ways to help people sort through info overload is far more valuable than providing more information."

Read more here [link]

Blog your way through college in the US

A great opportunity — if you're a US citizen or resident. As Alfred Hermida notes, how about an international contest or other national version? How about it WordPress. Blogger, Typepad, Live Journal etc?

"The scheme offers students who blog the chance to win a $10,000 scholarship. The contest has just started accepting submissions, but you only have until the end of the month to apply."

Read more here [link]