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Training Matters: Digital re-invention, skills and revenue models

joanneNCTJ chief executive Joanne Butcher, left, addressed the Westminster Media Forum this month as part of a panel session on the future of local media: plurality, revenue models and policy priorities.

Her address, adapted below, looks at the changing media landscape and what it means for the journalism skills agenda.


We at the NCTJ have been asking (in ongoing research projects) what the implications of the changing media landscape are for the employment of journalists overall, the skills that journalists will need and how people become journalists.

The findings from this research fall into three areas:

Firstly, journalism is not in decline but it is changing fast and therefore skills are changing.

In terms of the numbers, the natural assumption is that with all the changes to local media journalism is in decline. This is not the case and decline is not supported in the data. National data, collected by the Office for National Statistics, suggest that over the last ten years, the number of people working as journalists has stayed roughly the same – around 60–70,000. Data for the last few years shows a strong recovery, from a low of 58,000 in 2009 to 70,000 in 2014. Forecasts for the future number of journalists – again produced by Government bodies – suggest that the number could increase to 88,000 by 2022.

What has changed is the places that they work. There is undoubtedly a move away from what used to be considered the ‘core’ areas of newspaper and magazine publishing and broadcasting to self-employment and freelance working, PR and corporate communications and, indeed, in a number of other sectors of the economy. In a world where communication is increasingly important, it should be no surprise that those who are perhaps best equipped to ‘tell the story’ should find themselves valued and sought-after in other sectors.

What does this mean for skills? Some skills changes have been caused directly by the drivers of change – IT and digitisation. Journalists have to be multi-skilled to write and disseminate on a range of different platforms. Journalists now use technology tools to research and source stories. Other changes may be more subtle – the relationship that journalists now have with their audiences is different – more immediate, more direct, more visual, more interactive – which requires different skills. There is also a greater focus on the importance of ethics and journalists taking more responsibility for quality controlling their own work.

Secondly, local media still provide a fertile and innovative training ground for young journalists so please don’t write them off!

The regional press and local radio have traditionally provided the springboard for careers in the wider print and broadcast media. At the NCTJ, with media convergence and changing patterns of employment, we have had to broaden our remit to all media platforms and all journalists.

However, local media remain very important. There is evidence that the quality of trainees is high and the numbers are holding up. There is a 72 per cent pass rate in the latest results of the March NQJ with 65 trainees sitting first-time; compare this to the 54 per cent pass rate two years ago with 66 trainees.

At BBC local radio, we have seen the introduction of an exciting apprenticeship scheme to train 46 broadcast assistants. Local TV is now providing experience for those who are training to be journalists. Local partnerships between the press and education and training providers continue to be successful – such as the collaboration between Brighton Journalist Works and the Argus, and local schools; the Highbury College award-winning ‘classroom in a newsroom’ at the Portsmouth News; and new apprenticeship schemes at Darlington, Lambeth and Wolverhampton Colleges.

Thirdly, we need to support the on-going development of all our journalists to ensure they have the editorial and commercial skills for digital re-invention.

The rapidly changing world of local media has had a massive impact on journalism. The drivers of change – developments in the business environment, the revolution in IT and digitisation, the fallout from Leveson – are all changing the way journalists do their jobs.

In times of change, people need to develop new skills to enable them to adapt and add value. This requires investment and innovation. And finally, we need journalists from all walks of life so please continue to support the Journalism Diversity Fund.