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…

Students suffer media withdrawal: clue to future of journalism?

Regina McCombs reports: “Students use the language of addiction and withdrawal in talking about their experiences going without technology for 24 hours during a study at the University of Maryland’s Phillip Merrill College of Journalism.

‘I clearly am addicted and the dependency is sickening,’ said one student. ‘Although I started the day feeling good, I noticed my mood started to change around noon. I started to feel isolated and lonely,’ said another. […]??Students equated technology with media — the phones, iPods, computers, laptops and televisions were just a means to get to information, whether that information was about the world around them, or about their friends. And much of that technology is mobile. Phones in particular […] ‘A truer mapping of those pathways could provide direction to journalists in their search for relevance in the century ahead’. ”

Read more here [link]

Aspiring journalists must specialise, says Malcolm Gladwell. Try stats or accounting…

From his interview in Time: "The issue is not writing. It's what you write about. One of my favorite columnists is Jonathan Weil, who writes for Bloomberg. He broke the Enron story, and he broke it because he's one of the very few mainstream journalists in America who really knows how to read a balance sheet. That means Jonathan Weil will always have a job, and will always be read, and will always have something interesting to say. He's unique. Most accountants don't write articles, and most journalists don't know anything about accounting. Aspiring journalists should stop going to journalism programs and go to some other kind of grad school. If I was studying today, I would go get a master's in statistics, and maybe do a bunch of accounting courses and then write from that perspective. I think that's the way to survive. The role of the generalist is diminishing. Journalism has to get smarter."

Read more here [link]

NY Times To Launch Local Blogging Initiative (Brownstoner)

NY Times gets into local blogs, it seems, with help from journalism students:

"Look out, local bloggers, the Gray Lady is moving in on your turf. Starting mid-day on Monday, The New York Times will be rolling out a neighborhood blog initiative.[…]

Each site will be helmed by a writer/editor from the paper, a Times official told us, but will draw upon contributors from the neighborhood as well as some free labor from the CUNY journalism program. Readers will be able to post everything from short films to wedding announcements…"

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]

Focus on 'what,' not 'where,' in planning your journalism career

Geneva Overholser's summary of a point made at an Annenberg event:
"So you want to do journalism but are worried about all the change hitting the craft?
Do what digital pioneer and entrepreneur Elizabeth Osder has done: "I always tried to be about what I get to do rather than where I get to do it."
But the economic models just aren't working for newspapers online, lamented one student attending USC Annenberg School of Journalism Director's Forum.
Not true, said Osder, fresh off consulting work with Tina Brown's just-launched "The Daily Beast." Plenty of people are making plenty of money online. (As if in confirmation, David Westphal, Annenberg's executive in residence, noted that McClatchy right now makes more money online than it costs to pay all the editors and publishers in the company.)

Read more here [link]

More follow-up on the MediaShift blog by NYU journalism student

“Embedded” Blogger-Journalism Student Confuses the Hell Out of PBS – More follow-up on the MediaShift blog by NYU journalism student: “Remember the NYU professor who banned blogging about class, after one of her students wrote a piece for PBS’s MediaShift blog criticizing the class and the journalism program? Now PBS’s ombudsman (they have one?!) has chimed in negatively about the piece: “I have serious problems with the episode that unfolded recently in which a journalism student at New York University, Alana Taylor, authored a Sept. 5 posting as an ‘embedded’ blogger on MediaShift, writing critically about her class content and professor at NYU without informing either the teacher or her classmates about what she was doing.” Um, he wrote over 2,000 more hand-wringing words on the subject.”