Trainee journalists lack core skills such as news gathering and writing when entering the workplace.
That is the headline grabbing conclusion of a new survey, with more than 70% of employers who took part in the research claiming increased focus on multimedia lessons as part of the curriculum means the basics are not being covered.
I really wish this story hadn’t come out as this could well become the newspaper industry’s equivalent of the “exams are getting easier” chestnut that is trotted out every time we get to GCSE and A-Level results day.
It is also ammunition to the ostriches refusing to take their heads out of the sand about the technological changes that have impacted hard on the industry over the last decade.
Yet, at the same time, I am not surprised to hear so many employers decrying the lack of core skills – hey, I’m 40 now, I’ve been a hack for 20 years and so I get the right to say things like “training was so much better when I was younger”.
I do believe I was lucky to train as a journalist when I did, on a paper with a fantastic and deserved reputation for nurturing journalistic talent. Newsdesk and subs would bark at you, but they would also take the time to point you in the right direction – lessons were learned and mistakes were rarely, if ever, repeated.
Times have changed and certainly the last time I was working on a paper full-time (a little over two years ago) it was possible to count on the fingers of one hand the number who impressed from the weekly supply of work experience students who came through the door.
But from my experience this isn’t a recent problem. In a previous guise working on a newsdesk 10 years ago I had responsibility for looking after trainees and work experience placements and it was often hard work.
There were exceptions – and they were so exceptional they are now doing big things nationally and internationally – but there were also alarming gaps in knowledge and the basics and some would-be journalists who struggled to write a 75-word brief.
We need balance. We need the next generation of journalists to be able to embrace the technological changes that continue to impact on the industry and know how to make full use of the social media tools at their disposal.
But we also need those same journalists to be able to sniff out a good story and have the ability to write it.
We need young journalists with core skills that range from using Twitter effectively to knowing how to write a punchy intro.
Things were different in my day. But that doesn’t mean they were better.
Everything we knew back then is different, apart from the core skills that were drummed into us.
And at my first meeting in a new role yesterday I took detailed notes using the shorthand I was taught 20 years ago.