What message are the NCE editors sending out to their newsrooms?

I saw an update on Twitter today that read: 
Editors: ‘Traditional skills more important than new media’ 
with a link that I clicked, and it took me to this Press Gazette story. 
(I appreciate the above isn’t an award-winning opening sentence but bear with me, all will become clear I hope…)
So once I’d clicked my link and visited PG this was the first thing I read: 
Editors involved in a review of the National Council for Training of Journalists’ NCE qualification for senior journalists have urged the training body to continue emphasising traditional journalism skills over the use of new media.
More than 100 editors and senior managers were asked to assess the importance of skills ranging from legal understanding to how journalists use social media.
The top four most important skills cited by editors were: writing, finding news stories, interviewing and legal knowledge – while at the bottom of the list came social media, web skills and interaction with readers.
It’s possible that third par has been worded to prod the hornets’ next a little but I guess these are – if not explicitly stated as being luxuries – viewed as of being of some usefulness but not really what journalism is about.

However, I’d be amazed if all editors really saw things as narrowly as this – after all, they are journalists and we’re trained to see the angles in everything.
Surveys can be so one-dimensional and I cannot imagine many editors who have believe the frankly-ludicrous Interview part of the NCE is more useful than web skills. Or video. Or an ability to moonwalk, to be honest.
I used to act as an ‘observer’ on the interview part of the exam (yes I was that shadowy figure who at in the corner and never spoke) and I can honestly say all that part of the day ever did was teach journalists to fire questions like ‘and did anything unusual happen during the rescue?’  in a most un-real world manner, simply because the candidates all knew there was always a hidden nugget of information – like, the guinea pig alerted the family to the fire or the rugby team was actually a women’s XV, lawdblessmysoul!

I wholeheartedly agree that finding stories, interviewing, local knowledge, are fundamental skills for anyone who wants to report (whether that’s in msm or otherwise). But here’s the thing; why would any editor say these were more important than social media, web skills and interaction? Why would any editor not understand that these are intrinsic to finding stories, interviewing and local knowledge?
Finding stories could just as easily be called crowdsourcing, something made possible by  online social networks. Web skills surely boil down to an ability to work online effectively – be that on Facebook or in Google search – and what editor wouldn’t view an ability to use Google search that as essential?
What are print skills? Are they an ability to write a headline, sub a story, design a page? Because if you’re going to break things down into web or print, then the universal across both include: 
Meanwhile, online you have the added ability to 
Add media
… and much more
It’s no controversy to state that nine times out of ten you’ll find more stories through judicious searching on social media than you will reading public notice boards on your beat patch or the death notices in your paper. You’ll also get a faster, wider, more engaged response if you ask for help on a social network than if you put ‘Got  a story? Contact our newsdesk’ on the strap of a page. How would I have found the PG story if it hadn’t tweeted it? I’m far more likely to visit a website when prompted by a Twitter link.

Another editor’s comment that stood out for me as this one:

“I think the exam is still about fundamental journalistic standards – it is not a test of Facebook and Twitter skills or, for that matter, audio and video,” commented one editor. They have their place but they are not as important as the underlying principles of accuracy, objectivity, balance and news sense. The NCE should be about testing those.”

How must that editor’s digital team feel? Less than valued, I’d imagine, if they knew what their boss really thought of them.
As a digital journalist, you have more skills than most of your colleagues: your toolbox includes soundslides, video, running multiple social media accounts, creating unique online content, and the ability to rewrite (or just write) webheads that are SEO-ed, add photographs, embed multimedia, move the the sports pages football splash out of the Tennis story list where it’s inexplicably ended up, the list goes on.
If an editor doesn’t think that’s at least as important as what’s being done elsewhere in the newsroom, what sort of message does it send out?

Updated August 24 2011
There have been some very eloquent blog postson the report that I’ve caught up with today; I’m adding them in here as they address a wide variety of points, from different perspectives…
Educator and digital star Andy Dickinson: “Frustrating as it is, I’m not surprised by the report or the reaction to it. I’ve kind of moved beyond being annoyed by the continued blurring of the lines between NCTJ marketing and the ‘views of industry’. What annoys me about this report is that it’s so output driven – it’s all about getting the paper out not about the process”
Full post here 
Martin Belam, Lead User Experience & Information Architect at Guardian News & Media: “If you get a job in a newsroom, you will be surrounded by years of experience in “traditional” journalism. What you won’t generally have is frequent access to people with the digital skillsets the industry is transitioning towards.”
Full post here
Adam Tinsworth, Editorial Development Manager for Reed Business Information: “Trying to separate working a beat from social networking and the web is pretty much like trying to separate it from using the telephone: ridiculous. But the problem is that anything new has this vague sheen of “techie” that people seem to use as an excuse not to move beyond their comfort zone – and there’s plenty of evidence of that in the comments on the original post.”
Full post here
David Higgerson, Head of Multimedia for Trinity Mirror: “Ironically, interaction with readers scored more highly than using social media, but lower than finding news stories. Surely the three go hand-in-hand. Each can be done by the journalist on its own, but the successful, employable journalist will be one who can do all three without thinking about it.”
Full post here

I’ve now uploaded the NCE report to Scribd (embedded below)
NCE report 2011 – (function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })(); * Pic via AccessHollywood 
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3 thoughts on “What message are the NCE editors sending out to their newsrooms?

  1. I get quite annoyed about this kind of statement – that the traditional skills are the only ones worth having – for me it is like the conversation we are still having about convergence.

    I was recently rereading a blogpost by Hannah Waldram from a while back in which she talks says about convergence

    “Personally I think we should stop using the term right now – and focus more on how we can use media and online tools to enhance the journalism we do. Talking of ‘convergence journalism’ runs the risk of pigeon-holing a way of working – which could lead to skewed recruitment methods, newsrooms which continue to belittle online practises, and alienation of reporting and news gathering habits.

    To me this skepticism about digital skills is no different. We should stop having this conversation as it is past – I regularly hear phrases about integrating digital which include “let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater”.

    Let's be honest – understanding how to tell a story in words, pictures, video, interactives= journalism.

    Researching using the phone or social media is a vital part of any journalists tool kit – or do we only serve the part of the community that can be found on the street when we are allowed out into our districts?

    Traditional approaches augmented by new skills and techniques are what will help journalists and their communities. That's pretty self-evident given the ABCs over the last 10 years.


  2. There's certainly an problem that digital skills are somehow seen as different or “other”, and not an expression of what we've always done through a new medium.

    Perhaps Hannah is right, in that convergence is a bad word – it promotes that idea that digital is something separate, that needs to be brought back in alignment with “traditional” journalism.


  3. Thanks for adding your thoughts here both, it's always a treat to get your views.

    I agree that convergence is a weasel word it means so little in reality but it sounds great.

    The worry for me is that the NCE report reveals a real gulf between how people in the industry think; at the most basic level that's going to alienate engaged young journalists entering into their first jobs.
    It's also hard not to see the responses as a sort of denial of change – a disconnect between how things have always been done, and how they are done/will need to be done in the future.


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