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.”