Why train to be a journalist?

Posted by Prof Richard Sambrook

Why train to be a journalist? It’s a reasonable question as we read about the many apparent crises in the media. But the answer is simple. We are living in the information age – and journalists are information professionals whose skills are increasingly needed. As technology transforms the media, the journalism skills of gathering, verifying, assessing and analysing information, skills in fashioning a compelling story and in engaging the public, are in higher demand than ever.

Of course those skills, and the tools a journalist uses, are changing rapidly with new technology. Today, knowing to ask “Who, What, Where, When and Why” is not enough. Today’s journalists need to understand the dynamics of social media, how to use and visualise data, how to tell video stories at 20 minutes for documentary, 2 minutes for a news programme or 20 seconds for Instagram.

They need to understand the new relationship with readers and audiences. Journalism is no longer about telling the public what you think they need to know. It’s now a collaborative exercise, working with the public to explore the world and engaging them in a more personal one-to-one relationship than the sometimes lofty tones of the past. Underpinning all this, the core skills remain essential. Students need a thorough grounding in media law, public administration, media ethics, interviewing and reporting skills, tight writing and editing.

If traditional newsroom jobs are disappearing there is no question that new roles are developing fast. The sub-editors of the past are the social media community managers of the future; the editors’ back bench may be gone but the UGC desk is here for the foreseeable future. And where once there were just a few large media organisations now, in some sense, every company is a media company looking at how to engage the public with information and stories.

None of this is easy. It takes skill, judgement, critical awareness, and an ever wider range of technical abilities. Which is why good training is essential.

Today’s journalism courses have to develop as swiftly as the industry they serve.

The best place digital and social media at the heart of what they do, embrace data journalism, multi-platform publishing and are closely tied into industry with guest speakers, work placements and collaborations to ensure they are relevant to the rapidly changing requirements of employers.

They also innovate across other disciplines. That’s why at Cardiff’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural studies we have launched new courses with other departments; an MBA in Media Management with Cardiff Business School or an MSc in Computational Journalism with the School of Computer Science and Informatics. And we have developed specialist modules in Business, Politics, Sport, Data, Lifestyle and Consumer journalism to ensure students leave with a level of expertise in at least one key area. Our experience shows this makes a difference to employability – and supports our record of 90% of post graduates getting a job within a year of leaving.

Today’s journalism graduates also have to understand how and why news and media are changing. Case studies and direct access to media leaders provides insight into what’s driving the revolution the media is currently experiencing.

Which provides another compelling reason to consider journalism as a career. At a time of great change, there is great opportunity. We can’t say what roles or careers will be like in ten years time. But for those with commitment and self-motivation, undaunted by competition or the need for hard work, and crucially with a foundation of good training, journalism skills can take them a long way.