In a guest post Alexandra Stark, Swiss journalist and Head of Studies at MAZ – the Swiss School of Journalism, argues that it’s time for journalists to take action on business models for supporting journalism. Stark proposes a broadened set of skills and a new structure to enable greater involvement from journalists, while also fostering further teaching of such skills.
Ask a journalist if his or her job will remain important in the future: “Of course,” he or she will answer while privately thinking, “What a stupid question!” Try changing this stupid question just a bit, asking: “How will it be possible that you’ll still be able to do a good job in the future?” It’s likely you won’t receive an answer at all.
Most journalists have never really thought about it. And if they have, they’ll probably tell you it’s not their job – it’s the task of someone else: perhaps the media owners, readers, foundations or even the state.
For the most part, journalists don’t count “thinking about the future” among their responsibilities. Yet is it really wise to leave our future to others – many of whom have interests in different directions? Shall we leave it to the media executives who’ve promised shareholders a 20 percent return on investments? To the audiences, who’ve grown accustomed to receiving everything for free, or simply taking what is presented? Shall we leave it to foundations or the state, which may change positions or run out of funding?
No. If we journalists want to be able to do a good job in the future, we should stop reacting – adapting – to what happens and start taking action ourselves.
Let me make this clear: basic journalistic skills – for example research, selection and presentation – remain crucial. We’re still talking about journalism.
But as the world becomes more complex, it is no longer sufficient to simply know how to write nice articles or to use a video camera.
Our potential to do what is now considered a “good job” has dramatically decreased due to technological changes, reduced pay and transformations in user behaviour.
Journalists need to take responsibility
Until recently, most of us journalists didn’t especially care about these catalysts of change. Nor did our bosses, as a recent study* from the University of Applied Sciences of Winterthur shows. The study is based on the Tartu-Declaration, which lists 50 skills for journalists, accepted Europe-wide. When asked about the most important skills, 360 editors in chief from across Europe ranked the competencies as shown below:
good general knowledge 2
showing initiative 3
ability to select information on the basis of reliability 4
ability to work under time pressure 5
ability to distinguish between main & side issues 6
ability to interpret selected information 7
knowledge of current events 8
willing to take criticism 9
ability to take responsibility for the product 10
This ranking indicates that the skills editors in chief consider important are those closely related to the heart of journalistic work – the day-to-day-routine of creating content. The Tartu-Declaration does not mention many skills dealing with the aforementioned drivers of change, and the few which are not considered important by the editors in chief are as follows:
having the will to interact with the public 24
ability to work with technical infrastructure 25
ability to stimulate debate 34
ability to work within budget limits 41
ability to organise contributions from the public 44
ability to cooperate with technicians 45
knowledge of market conditions 47
mastering the basics of layout 48
knowing the practical aspects of being a freelancer 49
ability to reflect on a future career 50
It is of course understandable that the focus of editors in chief will be on day-to-day business. Many newsrooms were forced to reduce staff, leaving remaining journalists the task of filing more stories. Overall, the situation is growing increasingly difficult, and changing circumstances continue to restrict our possibility to produce good journalism.
Yet this is wrong: we should stop getting used to the pie shrinking. We need to help make the pie grow again.
This is – of course – much easier said than done. No one knows the “correct” way to go about it, and while a few have tried problem-solving, the majority simply scrutinize their efforts and indulge in schadenfreude when they fail.
Most initiatives are driven by the business-side, with journalists rarely taking action. Why is that so? Because we still think that it’s not our business. If we really want to do our job in the future, we journalists should not only provide content, but also be involved in securing the possibility to create good journalism.
Journalists should not only write good articles, but also make sure they can do their job. Who else cares?
In a world where it is not clear where we are going, we need completely new skills. We should know about and be interested in the drivers of change and how they’ll affect journalism, that is: how the economy evolves, how technology develops and how our users change their habits.
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