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Regional press reaches digital skills ‘tipping point’ claims survey

Rebecca WhittingtonRegional editors are now showing a “clear preference” for digital skills when recruiting staff, research by a journalist-turned-academic has revealed.

Rebecca Whittington, pictured left, gave up her position as head of news at the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post in November to begin a new path in academia and media consultancy.

Now she has carried out an analysis of regional press job adverts which she claims shows the industry has reached a “digital tipping point” in terms of newsroom skills.

Using language sourced from around 100 job advertisements found on HoldtheFrontPage over a three-month period as the basis for her research, Rebecca found there had been a “definite tip” towards digital skills being desired by employers.

To analyse the adverts, two keyword sets were identified – a traditional set, featuring terms such as print, contacts, exclusive, hard news and shorthand, and a digital set comprising terms like hits, UGC, platforms, multimedia and Facebook.

Rebecca, who also edited several Yorkshire weeklies during her career and is now a graduate teaching assistant at Leeds Trinity University, then assessed the asds according to how many times each of keywords were used and where in the text they first appeared.

She found a significantly higher number of digital keywords over traditional – with 56pc (496) of keywords used coming from the digital set and 44pc (395) coming from the traditional set.

Of the digital keywords used, “online” was the most common, followed by “digital” and “social media”. Of the traditional keywords used, “print” was the most common, followed by “NCTJ” and “ideas”.

In terms of the regional publishers advertising on the site, Trinity Mirror placed the highest emphasis on digital language, with 73pc of the keywords it used coming from the digital set. Newsquest had 54pc from digital and Local World had 52pc from digital.

Archant, which placed eight adverts over the period from November 2014 to January 2015, gave higher emphasis to traditional language, with 59pc of its keyword use coming from the traditional set.

The remaining smaller newsgroups and independents were grouped together – with 70pc of their keywords overall coming from the traditional set.

Recruitment for reporters was highest with 35 positions, closely followed by trainee reporters at 34.  Only ads from regional press employers were included in the survey.

Rebecca, who is working on a PhD investigating the impact of digital reporting tools on regional media, now plans to repeat the study over the coming three years in order to identify and changes or trends.

She said: “Overall, these results show a clear preference for digital skills in terms of both keyword use and order of placement within the advertisements.

“But before it is assumed that this situation follows suit in the newsroom, caution must be voiced. The preference for digital over traditional could merely be indicating a desired state of a newsroom or company, rather than reality.

“It could also indicate an urge to demonstrate the importance of newer digital skills in contrast to taken-for-granted traditional ones.”

Previous research had indicated that traditional skills remained more highly prized by editors than digital capabilities, for example in 2011 when the NCTJ decided not to change its curriculum following such a study.

Only recently have studies started to show a shift, with research carried out by Dr Lily Canter of Sheffield Hallam University earlier this year finding that editors acknowledge digital skills as being as important as traditional ones.

Added Rebecca:  “There is still work to be done to establish these findings as set in stone.

“However, as a snapshot, these results strongly suggest the digital tipping point at local newspapers within the UK has been reached.”

25 comments

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  • September 17, 2015 at 9:04 am
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    This “finding” sounds like the type of infamous investigation produced by Archants investigations unit in as much as its clearly stating the obvious.
    Of course,the skills required in modern media and news gathering have changed to suit the needs and methods of a modern news medium and how people want to acccess their news,is this not basic common knowledge?
    why would any potential employer seek people with skills that are no longer needed?
    its akin to being amazed that railway companies no longer need firemen or those with experience in operating steam driven engines.

    she goes on to say
    “The preference for digital over traditional could merely be indicating a desired state of a newsroom or company, rather than reality.”
    does she honestly think any potential employer would be foolish enough to recruit people with skills they desire as opposed to skills that they need to do a job? They have enough traditionally skilled staff already ,they need staff with skills akin to the way the job has changed.
    There is also a reference to reseach done in 2011,four years ago!,think how much the industry has changed in that time alone.

    All seems a complete waste of time and effort doing reasearch that anyone who has been around the industry could have told her, so although she says its not set in stone i would suggest that it is and that to spend anymore time,let alone three years, investigating this further would be pointless.

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  • September 17, 2015 at 9:15 am
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    I’ve carried out my own analysis of the local press and the keyword I’ve identified is “money”. As in – where is it these days? And are the board still getting good bungs… sorry, hard-earned emoluments… before the whole thing goes belly up? I think we should be told.

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  • September 17, 2015 at 9:37 am
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    Dear God, is this all you have to do to be an academic? Deal me in.

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  • September 17, 2015 at 9:55 am
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    Does anyone know the course content of current NCTJ courses and how relevant that is to the modern demand for skills?

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  • September 17, 2015 at 10:12 am
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    checks date and asks self if today is April 1st?
    “…. a PhD investigating the impact of digital reporting tools on regional media, ….plans to repeat the study over the coming three years in order to identify and changes or trends.”
    “…“It could also indicate an urge to demonstrate the importance of newer digital skills in contrast to taken-for-granted traditional ones.”

    is this a joke?
    a three year study to investigate and to come up with what we already know?
    where has this person been hiding for the last 5 years if she isnt aware of this most basic fact and did I see she was a news editor???
    and just what does she expect recruiting press groups to be looking for, people experienced in hot metal presses or plate making?a working knowledge of using a fax machine and pager maybe?
    ps I am thinking of doing a PhD on the effects of how eating certain types of fat and sugar laden foods can lead to weight gain,can I have some money please

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  • September 17, 2015 at 10:23 am
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    Most people at the top of the newspaper tree haven’t got a clue what they want, they only know buzzwords. I was once asked how many Twitter followers I had in an interview – who cares?

    Said person who interviewed me was later seen talking about a new product on a wobbly Nokia N96 video. He was later laid off.

    Most people who work in SEO don’t even know what SEO works and what doesn’t because of the mystery ‘google algorythm’. It’s all nonsense.

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  • September 17, 2015 at 10:28 am
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    Head of news at the YP? I dread to think what her story ideas were like.

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  • September 17, 2015 at 11:08 am
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    Rebecca’s old newsroom was called a “newsroom of the future” or such like. JP bylines now say ‘digital reporter’ or something similar even in printed form. Job adverts ask for an understanding of social media.
    Is more research necessary?
    Maybe the research would be better placed in looking at the way self generated, quality news stories are evaporating from the regional press as reporters are left to tweet about the latest press release.

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  • September 17, 2015 at 11:14 am
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    Oh dear. The methodology for this “research” is so flawed. But the bigger issue is that it is now going to be stretched out for THREE YEARS?! Phd research is based on exploring and finding out NEW material that will contribute to the academy. There is nothing new here. The future is digital. And bears poop in the woods. Nothing to see here. Move on… This would not even work on an MA level, let alone post-doc. Sorry, but this researcher has been led astray by whoever is supervising her. Would suggest a complete overhaul of the subject area, new avenues of exploration, resubmission of proposal, new methodology, etc…

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  • September 17, 2015 at 11:41 am
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    Wow guys, thanks for the overwhelmingly positive response on this; I couldn’t have expected more! To answer a couple of the more pertinent points on here:
    Yes, it’s clear that newsrooms have been employing more digital methods in recent years – a change which could be taken for granted. However, this research is the first to demonstrate digital skills have overtaken traditional in terms of desirability. It’s also the first part of a longer and bigger study which will assess skills requirements in order to inform training needs. More specific skills like coding, data analysis etc.. are still absent from the adverts – perhaps this will change over time.
    I could go on, but I’m not going to – if you want more information about the study (and how it fits into the wider research and why) please feel free to take a look at my blog which explains it in further depth http://rebeccawhittingtonmedia.com/news-updates-and-blog/ . However, if you want to leave a comment please use your proper name; I’m not into hiding behind anonymous pseudonyms.

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  • September 17, 2015 at 12:00 pm
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    Rebecca
    Anyone applying for positions in a modern news environment be it a newsroom or via an external route will be very familiar with modern digital methods and skills including coding as should the business looking for applicants so it doesn’t need in depth research to reach that conclusion.

    And why do you need to ‘demonstrate that digital skills have overtaken the more traditional ones’ ? Everyone involved in the regional press knows this already it’s part and parcel of the job role so what is the purpose of putting info words what we already know?
    With 30+ years in the regional press and having gone from hot metal to digital and all points in between it didn’t need anyone to tell us or the employer what skills are needed,the jobs and skill sets needed have evolved and we along with them. We all know that regional press news reporting has changed beyond all recognition and don’t need someone to spend time researching the obvious
    There are far greater issues both locally, nationally and globally that could benefit by being researched and investigated but this isn’t one of them

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  • September 17, 2015 at 12:48 pm
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    Rebecca: Thanks for adding your views. Being a journalist for so many years, you should have been ready for the criticism. You are, after all, using the public’s money to fund your research – unless you’ve managed to secure external funding? As Paul has pointed out, you will not find out anything new here. The beauty of research, particularly at Phd level, is that it is meant to take you into previously unchartered territory. This will not.

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  • September 17, 2015 at 1:19 pm
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    So in an interview for a trainee reporter, who would an editor favour?

    1. Someone with a computer-related degree and an A-level in English. Or
    2. A candidate with a journalism-related degree and a computing A-level.

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  • September 17, 2015 at 2:39 pm
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    What a waste of money. Whoever funded this must have zero knowledge of the recent history of the newspaper industry and I’m afraid I’m not impressed by Rebecca’s explanation either. How long did she work as news editor on a daily and what was her previous journalistic experience?

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  • September 17, 2015 at 4:53 pm
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    ” Rebecca, who is working on a PhD investigating the impact of digital reporting tools on regional media, now plans to repeat the study over the coming three years in order to identify and changes or trends…”

    As if the research so far hasn’t highlighted what we already know ,the whole media landscape will have changed again in the next three years time so what is the point of this excercise?

    And why select just the uk regional press? The same skills and abilities also apply to national and international news gathering and reporting so its not unique to RP

    The only ‘ caution that needs to be voiced ‘ here is why anyone would waste precious time money and resources investigating something so blatantly obvious in the first place and I think the only tipping point that’s being reached is people’s amazement that such research is actually taking place at all.

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  • September 18, 2015 at 4:37 am
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    This story highlights another negative development in society – the obsession with qualifications and credentials. A long time ago having a BA degree was prestigious; then a Masters was necessary; now only a PhD will do. Too many people rushing around desperate to get ‘Dr’ in front of their names. PhD thesis are supposed to add to the sum total of knowledge – and I suppose in some small way this does – but so would finding the exact amount of grains of sand that make up Exmouth beachfront. It is a question of whether the knowledge is worth discovering and whether it will make any difference to the world at large.

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  • September 18, 2015 at 7:19 am
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    Rebecca I really don’t get this and am desperately trying to understand what use these findings are to an employer or potential employee, both who would be aware of the ‘likely’ skills needed in a modern news role so I’ve just looked at your blog piece and whilst the graphs, pie charts and graphics are all very colourful there’s certainly nothing on it that ‘goes into greater depth’ , gives a new perspective or greater context to what everyone can see by looking around them.
    It just reaches the conclusion that companies employing in the regional press are after people with a different set of skills than they used to, the same could be said of the national press and almost any business or industry …….so your point is what exactly?
    I also cannot see why you feel the need to demonstrate or prove that ‘the tipping point has been reached’ ?

    Any employer will have listed a set of skills and abilities based on the requirements and demands of the job,and any potential employee will have an idea of what’s required either by using common sense or by reading the ad and seeing the ‘keywords’listed so I really can’t see the point in this research as it helps neither interested party and seems,sorry to say, a waste of time and effort with no useable outcomes or benefits.

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  • September 18, 2015 at 8:24 am
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    Just because something is ‘obvious’ doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be researched. I mean, it’s obvious that sun moves around the earth. Patently obvious.
    In an industry that is floundering (job cuts, amateurisation of the profession, falling revenues) and with a leadership that seems to grasp at any straw floating past, perhaps we should welcome some research that may lead to solutions. It may not, but until its completed and who knows.
    Or should we carry on making decisions based on gut-instinct over evidence, because that has worked out well for us so far.

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  • September 18, 2015 at 8:48 am
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    it seems the anonymity or pen names aspect has hit a nerve Rebecca?
    the benefit of such is that those posting comments can be more honest and give (usually) genuine feedback or an alternate view by right of reply which if giving a real name you wouldn’t get,ii’s the opposite of the Yes man culture and should be welcomed.
    I’ve had people knock my comments in the past on here but accept it as part of the fun and its good to hear an alternate view or opinion.

    Sometimes the truth hurts but only those who can’t take criticism or who only want everyone to say what they want to hear should be concerned

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  • September 18, 2015 at 1:01 pm
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    Dangerous to assume yes gone fishing but also pointless when the findings tell us what everyone doing the job already knows and at no time or cost to arrive at this conclusion

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  • September 18, 2015 at 2:36 pm
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    Life can be fatal…..in most cases…discuss!

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  • September 18, 2015 at 5:52 pm
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    There’s criticism and opinions, which should certainly be welcomed, but it’s unfair to make it personal.
    Well done for making it into The Guardian!
    http://gu.com/p/4cf53/sbl

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  • September 20, 2015 at 11:23 am
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    Since when has the sun moved around the earth?
    If it did, that would be worth researching.

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  • September 21, 2015 at 2:40 pm
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    I hide behind anonymous pseudonyms because I will get a kick up the backside from my bosses if I write anything that they disapprove of.
    That is the reality in my commercial newspaper world compared to academia.

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