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Training Matters: Emerging skills for journalists

The NCTJ has published Emerging Skills for Journalists, a research report into the issues affecting journalism and the impact these changes are having.

We asked three members of the NCTJ board of directors, Laura Adams, Bob Satchwell and Neil White, to give their views on the research and what it means for the regional press.


Bob Satchwell, executive director, Society of Editors

Journalists are used to change. They chase the news and, by definition, news is what is unusual and different in life, otherwise it would not be newsworthy.

Their lifestyle can make them a tad conservative at times as a natural consequence of the pace at which they work, the frequently unpalatable events they cover and unwholesome information they report.

Set that against the dramatic changes that have beset the media. The deepest recession for nearly a century hit as we were struggling to cope with digital diversity, which has given us social media and new ways of delivering and receiving news.

We thought we were in charge, producing the news when it was convenient for presses to roll or when bulletins could be slotted into broadcasting schedules. Meanwhile the world was increasingly screaming for instant headlines combined with basic facts in no more than 140 characters and snapshots or video, however grainy or shaky, which makes viewers believe they are seeing the action for themselves in real time. Audiences are more demanding and discerning. They now devour the products of journalism in a way they want, when they want.

New breeds of editors, journalists and publishers had to grow up fast – by necessity almost overnight.

They are adaptable, innovative, quick-witted and desperate to learn something new before everyone else – all the attributes of traditional journalists and editors – topped off with a box full of new tricks.

No-one has yet found the goose to lay the golden egg. It is very different chasing new revenues compared to the good old days when advertising poured towards the biggest circulations or broadcast audiences, nationally or locally.

The relative trickle of new revenues will eventually become a steady flow, with a range of tributaries, as those who have something to sell follow the eyeballs of those seeking the news, information and entertainment that journalists provide.

That is what will drive change. Editors and journalists will have to gather, write and deliver the news, maybe helping to sell ads too, just like the publishers of the dry gulch gazettes in 19th century American frontier towns.

Journalists in the new wild west of the digital age need to be multi skilled from the outset and eager to learn and adapt continuously through their working lives. The successful ones will be those who hone all the traditional skills and a whole lot of new ones, some of which have yet to be discovered and defined.

That is why the National Council for the Training of Journalists has researched its market and why it is growing its own basket of services to meet the needs of what will be a new golden age for journalism.


Laura Adams, editorial director, Archant London

Twelve years ago I entered the journalism profession as a fresh-faced trainee reporter on a thriving local newspaper; what I didn’t know then was the industry was on the cusp of a dramatic shift in fortunes.

The recession was the catalyst, yet once finances stabilised and newsrooms began to breathe a sigh of relief, the digital revolution was exploding, arguably proving to be the biggest challenge of all.

The impact on local journalists is significant; a reporter no longer simply builds contacts, goes out on patch, door knocks and writes well-written, accurate copy. A one-step process to file copy has become 10; copy is destined for multiple platforms and reporters are expected to give equal thought to all.

While out on a routine incident, reporters don’t just take notes at the scene; now they take pictures, shoot video, tweet and, oh, take some notes.

Meanwhile the internet and social media have crept into the newsroom’s consciousness as powerful newsgathering tools and central reference points. While valuable, they are not without their complexity – legalities aside, we need to be acutely alert to ethics, accuracy and truthfulness more than ever. The recent trend for ‘trolling’ leaves journalists – and publishers – open to attack, which can be personal and stressful for reporters.

I may be painting a bleak picture – but the modern role of a news reporter is not without opportunity; the expectations are demanding, yet if a cub reporter can crack it, they emerge as multi-skilled and fully-rounded journalists.

The key advantage of social media is the direct access we have to our audience; we can swiftly establish the talking points; we can spark the conversation and generate debate, providing richer foundations for our journalism.

But let’s not forget the power of print which continues to be an authoritative platform from which others will grow and thrive.

Ultimately we are nothing without an audience and the quality of our content remains king, which is why core journalistic skills remain vital.

Experience of SEO, video and blogging certainly carry sway during the recruitment process; but nothing will replace solid writing skills, news sense, shorthand and communication skills.

Yes there has been great change, not least the role of a reporter – but the essence of what we do remains constant: we inform and present the facts, we analyse and dig deep to tell the truth and we aspire to serve the audience and reflect the communities in which we serve so that the supremacy of our local media brands stay intact.


Neil White, editor, Derby Telegraph

Journalists have traditional skills which are likely to go unchanged in the future but the list of additional essentials is ever increasing.

Most importantly, whichever titles are assigned to what most of us know as reporters and photographers, they will always need to be 100% accurate.

Because there is so much information available, readers seek out their local newspaper and its website to offer the last word. This means accuracy is more important than ever.

It also means that the old-fashioned news sense is just as important as it ever was.

Of course, what is news often depends on a moment in time (who would have thought coloured elastic bands would have captured the imagination so much), so journalists need to be aware of trends and take advantage of them.

They also need to keep up to date with technological advances. The journalists who cannot keep pace will make themselves vulnerable.

Currently all newspaper centre staff would be expected to know how to load stories, pictures and videos to the web and have a thorough knowledge of how to use social media.

Reporters can take photographs and record video and have the ability to write headlines.

It is true that many new journalists may know more about new technology than their managers.

Indeed, that may be the reason they have been signed.

Time management has always been a key asset to any journalist but has become ever more vital in a world with so many demands.

They need to have the ability to develop relationships, interview subjects, assess information and publish in a very short space of time.

And they will need to understand the fall-out of Leveson and the ethical demands of the editors’ code of practice.

A busy job is going to be even busier.

The full report can be viewed on the NCTJ website (

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  • September 17, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    They could be taught how to write clear, tight human interest stories in good English. That would be a start. Some of the writing is laughable.

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