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Job applicants ‘terrified of making phonecalls’ says editorial chief

IanCarterEditorialDirectorKM (1)A regional editorial chief has raised concerns about job applicants being “absolutely terrified” of conducting face-to-face or telephone interviews.

KM Group editorial director Ian Carter, left, has remarked on the problem in a report on talent and diversity in modern newsrooms, which has been produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

Ian was interviewed for the study, which also focused on the issue of the diminishing number of journalists from working class backgrounds entering the industry.

HTFP has previously reported on journalism trainers including Paul Wiltshire, of the University of Gloucestershire, and Richard Horsman, of Leeds Trinity University, going public on their bids to tackle “phone phobia” among their students.

Quoted in the Reuters report, Ian said: “The two most important things I look for in a reporter are the ability to have one-to-one conversations with people from all walks of life. And that is something that has really changed over the past few years because people come in to us with lots of technical skills.

“But because they live their lives on social media, they are absolutely terrified of picking up the telephone and talking to somebody or talking to someone face-to face. They are so used to doing everything via instant messaging or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or whatever.

“And, actually, the number of people that can hold a conversation with somebody – it becomes a real challenge for us. They come around literally scared. ‘What do you mean, I have to call somebody up?’ ‘Well, yeah, you wanna talk to them, you cannot just rely on tweeting them!’ And that’s a real challenge for them so we really, really home in on that.”

Ian has since clarified that his comments related to applicants for jobs and those on work experience, rather than journalists actually working for the KM Group.

Speaking to the report’s authors, he also addressed the issue of social diversity within regional newsrooms.

Ian, who himself comes from a working class background, said: “I do think it is a challenge that you get fewer and fewer working class journalists or indeed people that represent their own communities, be that ethnicity or any other kind of criteria. So I do think it is becoming far more of a middle-class profession, which is something I’ve always tried to fight against.”

Speaking to HTFP, he added: “A diverse newsroom is really important, which is why we have a long-running apprentice scheme. Of course, you don’t need to be working class to be an apprentice but it does level the playing field.

“The concept of some applicants being scared to pick up the phone is an oft-aired concern. It’s a valid one though and is why we place so much importance on people skills when recruiting.”

The full Reuters Institute report can be read here.

19 comments

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  • July 24, 2019 at 9:30 am
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    I’m afraid some things just cannot be trained and If someone is afraid to pick up a phone and make a person to person call or is surprised that this is a basic requirement of a journalists role then they shouldn’t even be considered for the job.
    Presumably they’d run a mile if asked to actually meet and interview someone face to face?

    To think this is the level of potential journalist coming into the industry these days is alarming,however as more content is coming in user generated ,lifted off social media platforms or messaged via FaceBook perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised at the naivety of the applicants.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 9:39 am
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    I was scared to phone people in front of everyone else in the office but I got better at it as my confidence grew. Same with knocking on doors. You can’t just write someone off for a lack of confidence.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 9:56 am
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    spot on Ian. too used to re-writing tweets, facebook comments and e mails I suspect. You can always tell by the copy.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 9:57 am
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    Confidence comes with experience I agree but the piece quotes “What do you mean, I have to call somebody up?’
    That shows complete naivety on the applicants part that a job working in and with the community ( in theory anyway) as a reporter of news wouldn’t involve meeting and talking 1-2-1 with people.

    Common sense and the common touch are vital,you cannot train those things, if you don’t have them I’d say journalism, particularly regional community journalism isnt the job for you.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 10:05 am
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    ‘Diversity in the newsroom’ from the ‘University of Oxford’.

    haha!

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  • July 24, 2019 at 11:19 am
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    It’s not just trainee journalists who are scared of picking up the phone. At our University we train students in phone skills but, when they do call, they often meet the response, ‘please send an email.’ Many young people are scared of using the phone and trainee journalists are just the tip of the iceberg; it’s a general problem, in my opinion, with the youth of today!

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  • July 24, 2019 at 12:10 pm
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    As Victor Meldrew wld say: “I don’t believe it.” What do they teach the young people on their courses?

    To say they are not used to phoning is unbelievable. Come on. They spend most of their time on their mobiles nattering away. What is really at the heart of it, I think, is that many are running scared they will be told by the potential interviewee to “go away” or worse. If that is the case then it wld be akin to a detective saying he did not want to question a man/woman about a crime in case they were nasty. You get the impression that many young people think journalism is somehow “glamorous” – well it ain’t most of the time. It can be a good life but a tough one. Even after 50 years in the “game” I still felt a little queasy going on the “death knock” where you interview a person about the death of a loved one in an accident – but in reality many people did want to talk and pour their heart out.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 12:36 pm
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    I don’t work in journalism any more but we get a few work experience teenagers, usually between the ages of 18 and 20.

    Some haven’t turned up at all, some come late, all of them need to be told what to do at every step and rarely if ever take the bull by the horns and do anything themselves. My wife is a teacher and finds the same with student teachers now.

    When I was a journo, things weren’t ‘that’ bad, but I do know from former colleagues that things did get worse.

    I think two issues are at play here.

    X Factor generation has led to a group of young people who feel a lot of things are beneath them. They don’t want to go to the annual meeting of the women’s knitting league at the church hall, they want to work for the New York Times, and by ‘work’ I mean that in the loosest sense of the words.

    The second issue is industry specific.

    When I did my NCTJ we had to pass an exam and an interview, quite a few people didn’t make it in. When I went back a few years later to do a guest lecture, the culture had changed to ‘bums on seats’. (the cost of studying there had also increased from £850 to five GRAND. I’m sure these things weren’t mutually exclusive.

    It’s tragic that we’re opening up these courses now to a lot of people who aren’t capable and won’t get a job – even if there were many out there, which we all know there aren’t.

    This is the problem when money becomes the prime mover in your education system. It’s the same all over (I once guest lectured at a university too, the boss said there were some Chinese students in there (studying English journalism?!) who couldn’t speak good English and that if they asked me a question just smile and carry on – true story, astounding scenes.)

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  • July 24, 2019 at 1:06 pm
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    Do these young people know about landline phones rather than the weeny type welded to their mitts or about rehashing press releases and occasionally penning original stuff? All between forays on to their social media accounts. Imagine!

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  • July 24, 2019 at 1:58 pm
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    Obviously a cultural issue as less and less young people communicate this way.

    Fine to sneer at the poor youngsters for their perceived lack of a a basic skill, but surely it’s the job of the journalism trainers to address these shortcomings? Perhaps a round of morning calls for student journalists would go some way to address this?

    Also, you learn by doing. I remember being a fairly timid cub reporter who picked up these skills by watching my old editor (he made 30+ calls a day).

    I’ve sat in a newsrooms which have been deathly quiet. One colleague I sat next to didn’t pick up the phone in the 6+ months he was there.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 2:46 pm
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    I saw this a lot but what I found so invidious was that the reporters made out this was a moral decision. Their argument (especially when dealing with tragedy) is that it was wrong to contact the family.
    They would then go through the family’s social media and “steal” quotes etc without any sense of irony whatsoever.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 3:06 pm
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    When I worked as a journo interviewees actually preferred to be interviewed by phone or in person because the liability was on you to record what they said accurately or they could more easily ‘deny all knowledge’ of anything published. I think they feared responding through emails. Now I worked in PR and, admittedly on the ‘other side’ of the fence, email is the form of communication. My phone rings about six times a year and when I try and pitch a story to a national journalist – you just can’t get through. Speaking allows you more flexibility in an interview and its a shame its dying out.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 3:24 pm
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    That’s the way of the World now. Like downloading music, social media and real-time service information at bus shelters.

    However, the good news is that, increasingly, the people they are trying to phone also don’t want to speak and almost always let an unknown number go to voicemail.

    Just chill.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 3:43 pm
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    Going back 20 years, I interviewed a lad fresh from college who was the most shy and introverted person I’ve met. Impossible to prise a few words from him. He clearly had a problem and after the inevitable, but kindly closing if the interview, I called his college tutor and was told they knew if his painful shyness but hoped he would sort it out in the editorial office! I told the tutor that throwing this lad into what was then a frantic environment was unfair to him.
    Last year spoke to new recruit who never asked any questions and had appalling table manners and no sense of inquisition. In between trained up a dozen or so who moved onwards and upwards into big posts. The problem must be with the training establishments ..

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  • July 24, 2019 at 3:59 pm
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    I agree with the point about the problem being with the training establishments and I too feel more could and should be done to properly make trainees aware of what the job actually entails, but the fact anyone would embark on a career in journalism and not even slightly imagine it would involve speaking to people is beyond me.

    Perhaps having seen the larger groups online output the trainees assume majority of the content is rehashed press release material,leads, images and quotes taken directly from FB posts or follow ups to Twitter stories,all of which can be done behind a desk, at a laptop and doesn’t involves communicating with other people.

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  • July 24, 2019 at 5:13 pm
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    There used to be two cardinal rules in journalism::
    Rule 1 was: Journalism cannot be taught in a classroom. Most of the tutors (not all, I grant) are failures in the real world, which is why they went into academia.
    Rule 2 was: If you can’t front up an interview just look over your shoulder and you’ll see a queue of motivated people desperate for the opportunity you’ve been given and which, for a variety of reasons you cannot accept. this is the moment when you SHOULD realise you’re in the wrong job and you’re denying someone else the opportunity they deserve.
    If the thought of the telephone chat fills you with horror, don’t even think about the death knock. Someone else will give their right arm for the chance you’re prepared to spurn.

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  • July 25, 2019 at 12:54 pm
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    I presume that Mr Carter will ensure that all unsuccessful applicants in future will be given the courtesy of a phone call to let them know?

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