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”.

Don’t I?

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.

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5 responses »

  1. Interesting Paul… Nice to see that you aren’t using the old “back in my day” line since back in anyone’s day things were different… In this rapidly changing time.. There is a huge gap already between myself Gen Y and my youngest brother and his friends Gen Z.. and that’s only 6 years difference but a big contrast in the tech world they grew up in compared to my simple email/MSN youth.

  2. Paul Groves says:

    Hi pomegranate: The temptation to shake my head and say: “It wouldn’t have happened in my day” does seem to get greater with each passing week.
    But I do find the pace of change (at least in certain things) very exciting.
    Whether I would be as enthusaistic if I still held a staff job on a newspaper is another matter, but one of my frustrations before leaving my last title was the reluctance to embrace change.
    I do take this survey with a pinch of salt, but I also feel there is a pressing need to strike the right balance between “old school” and “new wave” (and using those two terms no doubt shows how out of touch I really am these days).

  3. Nick S Donald says:

    Human nature seems to consist of moaning about “these days” as opposed to the good old days. The truth is progress means things change. Full stop. Some things get better, some worse.
    I didn’t use to bother much with the news, but I find that I’m much more involved these days (there’s that phrase again) not so much because I’m older, but more because journalism outlets are more varied and therefore more “user friendly” (is that another old fashioned phrase?) .
    I’m glad you used the word “balance”, Paul. Balance is very under-rated these days.

    And I’ve just said it again.

  4. Paul Groves says:

    Nick: These days wisdom is sadly in short supply. As always you prove the exception to the norm.

  5. rainmakerz says:

    Very interesting topic. Have come through a journalism and media studies programme I can attest to the fact that they don’t provide the kind of training necessary for getting to grips with the media industry.

    Far too much focus on theory, Noam Chomsky et. al, which rather than inspiring a passion for the role of journalism in a healthy society, tends to inspire cynicism and distrust of the media.

    I feel I was lucky that I managed to get involved in student media and learn the skills that I now use every day.

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